We frequently see students in our office, from elementary age to graduate students, but this week we have seen more than usual. This occurs every year at this time.
Because this is a transition time after the end of classes for most students, it is an ideal time to finally get your students into the office for evaluation.
This may come as a surprise for some readers, but chronic pain among students is a common issue. There are millions of students experiencing some form of chronic pain.
Research has shown students from elementary school age all the way to graduate school may experience pain on a routine basis. The pain can come in the form of frequent headaches, ranging from sinus or tension headaches to migraines. Or they may experience neck or back pain or other ongoing joint pain or muscle aches. Student athletes often continue to experience pain months or years after an injury is thought to be healed.
There are many possible causes of persistent or chronic pain. Old, perhaps forgotten, injuries are a frequent source. Stress certainly plays a role. Poor posture and habits may be involved or may aggravate pain that is caused by something else. Nutrition, dehydration and dietary factors may be involved.
Student chronic pain is often ignored. Unfortunately, it is very common to gradually begin to ignore chronic pain in students. When pain is fresh, it gets a lot of attention, both from the person in pain and from those around them.
Unfortunately, it becomes very easy for parents to become less aware of their children being in pain after it has become chronic. This is a result of several factors. Teens, and even younger children often are hesitant to talk about their chronic pain. In many cases they have tried unsuccessfully to address it through doctor’s visits or various treatments, but it persists and eventually they just “learn to live with it.”
Even the most caring parents are subject to the “out of sight — out of mind” phenomenon. After they no longer hear complaints, they are focused on other matters and soon forget about pain that may be affecting their students. Since the student no longer complains, the parent assumes that the pain is gone.
However, students with even subtle chronic pain tend to give clues that may be observed by parents.
Chronic or persistent pain may not be at the forefront of the student’s mind, but it is still affecting them in significant ways. Chronic pain can affect a student’s personality, perhaps making them more irritable or withdrawn. Their posture may be affected. Their energy level often suffers. They may have difficulty with academic or athletic performance without an obvious reason why.
For students and adults alike, chronic pain can impact relationships. Relationships with parents, siblings and friends may suffer. I once had a married female patient that came into my treatment room with an interesting and revealing story. I had been treating her for about three weeks for chronic headaches and she was responding very well. She told me, “I was sitting on the sofa with my husband last night and he turned to me and simply said ‘Honey I love you.’ ” She asked what brought that remark up and he responded, “You have just been a different person lately. You have been nicer to me and the kids, you are not getting upset as much as usual and you are more like you were when we first married.”
The patient teared up as she finished her story. “I realized as I sat there, this is the first time in several years that I have not had a headache practically all the time. I knew I was constantly aware of not feeling well, but I had no idea how much the constant headache was affecting my life. I’m so thankful that you have been able to help me and my family, too.”
I have thought about that story many times over the years. It illustrates clearly how chronic pain can affect any person’s life. Pain, even if we manage to consciously ignore it, can greatly affect our emotions, thinking and concentrating, memory, energy level and physical abilities.
One of the more damaging effects of chronic pain is its impact on healthy sleep. Subtle, persistent pain can steal our sleep, leading to a host of health problems as well as mental, physical and emotional fatigue. This can be a serious issue for students as well as adults.
Perhaps most concerning about chronic pain in students is the fact that it often persists into adulthood. It is not uncommon for me to take a history of an adult in their 40s, 50s or beyond and listen as they relate to me that their chronic pain problem has been present since their teens. I can’t help but think how different their life would have been if someone had successfully helped them with their pain decades ago.
In our office we have been treating young patients for more than 30 years. Three decades of experience helps when trying to solve the puzzles presented when dealing with younger patients with ongoing pain. Sometimes it is difficult to clearly understand what the student is experiencing and determine the source of the pain. Seeking the true underlying cause of a student’s pain can be a challenge at times, but the result of being able to solve the problem can be life changing.
Don’t ignore even subtle ongoing pain in students and certainly don’t “learn to live with it.” It is far better to be persistent to find an answer so your student can enjoy the kind of live they deserve.
Dr. Mark Kestner is a licensed chiropractic physician in Murfreesboro. His office is at 1435 NW Broad St. Contact him at mkestner@DrKestner.com.