Centre for Pain Research

Pain and anxiety in children and adolescents

Emma Fisher, PhD Research Student

Pain is experienced often during childhood and adolescence. The most common types of pain experienced during this period are headaches and stomach pain. Children and adolescents also experience anxiety, often referred to as worry. This can be about everyday life such as school work, friends, family, but also about their health. Children and adolescents who experience high levels of pain for a sustained period of time also report high levels of anxiety, which is associated with poorer functioning, less social engagement, and lower mood.

My thesis investigates the effects of cognitive anxiety about pain in adolescents using a variety of methods. First, I investigate the longitudinal effect of early anxiety on later pain-related anxiety, functioning, and the development of chronic pain in older adolescents. Second, using an ecological momentary assessment worry diary, I investigate the content and characteristics of worry in adolescents, and compare the characteristics of worry between adolescents with and without chronic pain. Third, I explore how anxiety promotes approach-avoidance behaviours using an online vignette study, and compare differences between adolescent with and without chronic pain. Finally, I meta-analyse randomised controlled trials delivering psychological therapies to children and adolescents with chronic pain on four outcomes; pain, disability, anxiety, and depression. My thesis will provide an in-depth analysis of the effects of anxiety, which could be used to inform more targeted treatments for adolescents with chronic pain.