Recurrent pain and discomfort in relation to fitness and physical activity among young school children

Eur J Sport Sci. 2013;13(5):591-8. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2013.767946. Epub 2013 Feb 8.


As an increase in pain symptoms among children has been shown in the last decades, the aim of this study was to describe perceptions of recurrent pain, measured physical fitness and levels of reported physical activity (PA) in children, and to investigate if any associations between PA, fitness and recurrent pain could be identified. A school-based study comprised 206 Swedish children 8-12 years old, 114 boys, 92 girls. A questionnaire with questions about perceived pain, self-reported PA and lifestyle factors was used. Health-related fitness was assessed by 11 physical tests. A physical index was calculated from these tests as a z score. High physical index indicated high fitness and low physical index indicated low fitness. ANOVA test, chi-square test and logistic regression analysis were used to compare active and inactive children. The prevalence of one pain location (head, abdomen or back) was 26%, two 11% and three 4% (n=206). Female gender, living in single-parent families, low PA and low subjective health were associated with reported recurrent pain. Children reporting high levels of PA had high physical index and reported low prevalence of pain symptoms. The physical index and level of self-reported PA decreased gradually the more pain locations. Physically active children had higher fitness levels and reported less pain symptoms than inactive peers. Coping with pain is an integral part of PA, and active children learn to cope with unpleasant body sensations which together with high fitness may reduce the perception of pain.

MeSH terms

  • Body Mass Index
  • Child
  • Exercise Test / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Pain / diagnosis
  • Pain / etiology*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Physical Education and Training
  • Physical Fitness / physiology*
  • Recurrence
  • Schools*
  • Self Report
  • Surveys and Questionnaires