Pain in children with significant neurological impairment

J Dev Behav Pediatr. 1999 Aug;20(4):235-43. doi: 10.1097/00004703-199908000-00006.


The pain experience in the child with a significant neurological impairment is complex and confusing, and it raises many questions about the very nature of pain itself. Early work in this field suggests that the pain experience may be blunted. The neurological impairment associated with conditions such as cerebral palsy may alter the neurological system and hence the ability to comprehend and communicate pain; there is no evidence to date that this reflects true pain insensitivity or indifference. From recent work, the emerging body of evidence supports a relationship between the pain system and the motor, sensory, and autonomic systems and demonstrates how alterations to these systems may have a profound and unique impact on the pain experience. Beyond the altered neurological substrate, communication disabilities and social/environmental factors also seem to alter the pain experience. Establishing a clear pain history, including baseline information of child-specific patterns of behaviors and ongoing comparative use of this information over time, can provide clinically meaningful measures. Pain management should be directed at the underlying sources of pain and should include the analgesic ladder for everyday pain, opioids for acute/procedural pain (+/- benzodiazepine adjuvants), and antispasticity medications for high tone. With appropriate monitoring, demand and regional analgesic techniques can provide effective and safe postoperative pain control. The lack of basic and clinical knowledge in this field, however, adds another challenge to the clinician.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics / therapeutic use
  • Cerebral Palsy / complications
  • Child
  • Communication
  • Humans
  • Nervous System Diseases / complications*
  • Pain / complications*
  • Pain / diagnosis
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain Measurement


  • Analgesics