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The epidemiology of chronic pain in children and adolescents revisited: A systematic review

King, Saraa,*; Chambers, Christine T.b; Huguet, Annab; MacNevin, Rebecca C.b; McGrath, Patrick J.b; Parker, Louiseb; MacDonald, Amanda J.c

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doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2011.07.016
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Summary Chronic pain is prevalent in children and adolescents, with headaches being most common. Quality assessment indicated that most epidemiological studies do not meet quality criteria.

ABSTRACT Chronic and recurrent pain not associated with a disease is very common in childhood and adolescence, but studies of pain prevalence have yielded inconsistent findings. This systematic review examined studies of chronic and recurrent pain prevalence to provide updated aggregated prevalence rates. The review also examined correlates of chronic and recurrent pain such as age, sex, and psychosocial functioning. Studies of pain prevalence rates in children and adolescents published in English or French between 1991 and 2009 were identified using EMBASE, Medline, CINAHL, and PsycINFO databases. Of 185 published papers yielded by the search, 58 met inclusion criteria and were reviewed, and 41 were included in the review. Two independent reviewers screened papers for inclusion, extracted data, and assessed the quality of studies. Prevalence rates ranged substantially, and were as follows: headache: 8–83%; abdominal pain: 4–53%; back pain: 14–24%; musculoskeletal pain: 4–40%; multiple pains: 4–49%; other pains: 5–88%. Pain prevalence rates were generally higher in girls and increased with age for most pain types. Lower socioeconomic status was associated with higher pain prevalence especially for headache. Most studies did not meet quality criteria.

Sponsorships or competing interests that may be relevant to content are disclosed at the end of this article.

aMount Saint Vincent University, Halifax, NS, Canada

bDalhousie University and IWK Health Centre, Halifax, NS, Canada

cSt. Mary’s University, Halifax, NS, Canada

*Corresponding author. Address: Faculty of Education, Mount Saint Vincent University, 166 Bedford Highway, Halifax, NS, Canada B3M 2J6. Tel.: +1 902 457 6788.


Submitted September 24, 2010; revised July 14, 2011; accepted July 21, 2011.

© 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
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