It has been suggested that childhood pain could be the beginning of a career with chronic disabling pain. Bodily pain is frequent in children. We examined the association between self-reported bodily pain, mental distress and sleep problems in schoolchildren to test the following hypotheses: (i) that self-reported bodily pain is associated with mental distress and sleep problems, (ii) that the association is dependent on the localization of pain, and (iii) that the association increases with number of painful areas. Eighty-six percent of the pupils (569) in the 4th form (mean age 10.5 y), 7th form (mean age 13.5 y) and 9th form (mean age 15.5 y) from all the schools in a local community answered a questionnaire about self-esteem, body-image, physical activity and bodily pain. We found a strong association between the reporting of pain, mental distress and sleep problems. Pain in the knees was the only problem reported more frequently by boys than by girls, and knee pain did not show the same association with mental distress and sleep problems as pain from other regions.
Conclusions: A possible cause-effect relationship between pain, mental distress and sleep problems is discussed, and the possibility that all the complaints are the simultaneous signs of a multisymptom syndrome is introduced.