The experiences of acute non-surgical pain of children who present to a healthcare facility for treatment: a systematic review protocol

Nicole Pope, Mary Tallon, Ruth McConigley, Sally Wilson
JBI Database of Systematic Reviews and Implementation Reports 2015, 13 (10): 12-20

REVIEW QUESTION/OBJECTIVE: The qualitative objective of this systematic review is to identify and synthesize the best available evidence on experiences of acute non-surgical pain, including pain management, of children (between four to 18 years) when they present to a healthcare facility for treatment.The specific objectives are to identify:

BACKGROUND: The International Association for the Study of Pain defines pain as "an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage". The pain experience is multifaceted and complex, extending beyond the physiological interpretation of a noxious stimulus, encompassing other dimensions, including; psychological, cognitive, sociocultural, affective and emotional factors. Pain can be described as chronic (persisting for three months or more) or acute (a time limited response to a noxious stimuli). Over the past 50 years clinical research has made revolutionary contributions to better understanding pediatric pain. The once pervasive erroneous notion that infants do not experience pain the same way as adults has been firmly dispelled. We now know that nervous system structures associated with the physiological interpretation of pain are functional as early as fetal development. Despite this critical knowledge and the growing global commitment to improving pediatric pain management in clinical practice, evidence repeatedly suggests that pain management remains suboptimal and inconsistent, a phenomenon commonly referred to as oligoanalgesia. Research evidence has linked poorly managed pain in the pediatric population to negative behavioral and physiological consequences later in life. Effective pain management is therefore a priority area for health care professionals. Improved understanding of children's experiences of acute non-surgical pain may lead to improved pain management and a reduction in oligoanalgesia.In the 1970s and 1980s, studies began exploring the subjective experiences of pediatric pain and discovered children's abilities to articulate their pain experiences, and to link causes and consequences of their pain. Developmental trends or age related patterns with regards to children's expressions and experiences of pain were identified. Recent studies have also recognized apparent trends in children's understanding and expressions of pain; these follow an age and cognitive development trajectory in line with Piaget's theories of development.For many children psychosocial aspects of pain, including emotions like fear, stress and anxiety, are often more unpleasant than the painful experience itself. Emotional responses such as distress and anxiety are commonly associated with the anticipation of pain, can exacerbate and intensify the pain experience, and can significantly lower a child's pain threshold. One study utilized an observational pain assessment tool to explore children's pain experiences. The findings indicated that children who underwent "non-painful" procedures (such as restraint) had equal, and in some cases higher, pain scores than those who underwent painful procedures (such as intravenous cannulation).Several studies exploring pediatric pain within health care settings (including, but not limited to, general practitioners, hospitals, emergency departments and outpatient clinics) have adopted quantitative methods, some examined parents' perspectives, and others explored nurses' perceptions. While results of such studies have added to the existing body of knowledge that supports the need to focus on improving pediatric pain management, it has been suggested that failing to ask children directly risks not capturing subjective experiences of pain from the children's perspectives in their entirety. Seeking the children's perspectives could provide a more reliable and adequate means of gaining insight into their needs and expectations when they are in pain.A single centered study in Singapore used semi-structured face-to-face interviews (n=15) to explore children's experiences of pain management postoperatively. While the children, aged between six and 12 years, identified the role of analgesia in managing their pain, they also placed significant emphasis on the role of parents and health care professionals in implementing non-pharmacological interventions in pain management. These results are relevant as they provide insights into how children experience and express pain, and their expectations of health care professionals in managing their pain. These findings draw attention to effective pain management approaches when caring for children. Similarly, a UK study adopted a cross sectional descriptive design using the draw and write technique aimed at investigating children's views on what helped when they were in pain. The children (n=71) were aged between four and 16 years. Findings revealed that children viewed themselves as active agents in pain management, while also placing significant emphasis on the importance of parents and nurses in managing their pain. In both studies, children valued nurses for social interactions, such as kindness and humor, rather than the provision of clinical care, including analgesia administration. Adjunct therapies such as distraction, visualization and music have also been shown to be effective in managing the pain experience in children.Not only do these findings demonstrate the complexity of the pain experience for the child, they also support the notion that improved pain management may come from research that is designed to better understand the entire pain experience from the child's perspective. While there are systematic reviews on interventions for managing children's pain, and one explored children's experiences in the postoperative context, none have considered children's experiences of acute non-surgical pain when they present for treatment. This qualitative systematic review aims to identify and synthesize results of studies exploring children's experiences of pain and pain management.

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