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17-07-2011 | General practice | Article

High prevalence of chronic idiopathic pain, disability among adolescents


Free abstract

MedWire News: Findings from a Norwegian study reveal that nearly 50% of adolescents report chronic idiopathic pain, which has a major impact on several areas of daily life.

"This is, to our knowledge, the only study on pain and disability including a complete adolescent population," say Gry Hoftun (Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim) and colleagues.

The team analyzed responses from 7373 adolescents (average age 15.8 years) to a comprehensive 100-item questionnaire, including questions about pain and interference with daily life. Chronic idiopathic pain was defined as pain occurring at least once a week during the past 3 months, which was unrelated to any known disease or injury.

Chronic idiopathic pain occurring in any location was reported by 44.4% of adolescents, with 25.5% and 8.5% reporting pain in at least two and three locations, respectively.

Of all the adolescents reporting chronic pain in any location, 79.7% reported one or more disabilities. Difficulties in daily activities during leisure time were the most frequently reported disability for all pain locations, followed by difficulties sitting during a school lesson, which were reported by approximately 60% and 50% of adolescents, respectively.

Pain occurring almost daily was reported by 10.2% of adolescents, with pain occurring once a week and more than once a week reported by 19.1% and 15.0%, respectively.

Among the adolescents reporting chronic idiopathic pain almost daily in two or more locations, or in three or more locations, 66.9% and 75.0%, respectively, reported maximal disability. Furthermore, 54.0% of those who reported musculoskeletal pain almost daily had maximal disability.

Chronic idiopathic musculoskeletal pain (33.4%) occurred most frequently, and the neck/shoulder area was most commonly affected. Headache/migraine and abdominal pain occurred in 21.8% and 11.3% of adolescents, respectively.

"The high prevalence of chronic neck/shoulder pain is worrying, as neck/shoulder pain is a predictor of widespread pain and tends to persist more often than pain in other locations," say the authors.

The prevalence of pain was significantly higher among girls than boys, at 54.1% versus 34.2% for pain occurring in one location. Indeed, girls reported twice as many headaches/migraines and three times as much abdominal pain compared with boys, at 29.9% versus 13.5% and 17.1% versus 5.3%, respectively.

Headache/migraine was significantly associated with abdominal pain and musculoskeletal pain, especially in the neck/shoulder region.

"Further studies are needed to analyze pain-associated factors, such as psychosocial and lifestyle factors, in order to suggest appropriate intervention strategies," write the authors in the journal Pain.

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2011

By Ingrid Grasmo

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