February 22, 2024

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Childhood Trauma Linked to 45% Increase in Adult Chronic Pain Risk

Childhood Trauma Linked to 45% Increase in Adult Chronic Pain Risk

Childhood Trauma Linked to 45% Increase in Adult Chronic Pain Risk

New research reveals a 45% increase in the likelihood of experiencing chronic pain in adulthood, such as back and neck pain, for individuals who have suffered trauma during childhood.

A recent study has found that childhood trauma significantly raises the risk of chronic pain in adulthood, particularly in areas like back and neck pain.

The risk escalates with various adverse childhood experiences, underscoring the importance of addressing childhood trauma to alleviate its long-term impact on health.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), including physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, or neglect by parents or caregivers, inflict direct harm on children or adolescents.

This harm can also manifest indirectly due to family dysfunction, parental death, divorce, parental illness, or substance abuse.

Childhood Trauma Linked to 45% Increase in Adult Chronic Pain Risk

Previous research highlighted the negative impact of ACEs on physical, psychological, and behavioral health, potentially persisting into adulthood. A recent study led by researchers at McGill University in Canada delved into the relationship between childhood trauma and chronic pain in adulthood, revealing concerning results.

“These findings are particularly concerning as over one billion children annually (half of the global child population) are affected by ACEs, increasing their risk of chronic pain and disability later in life,” said the study’s lead author and corresponding author, André Bussières. “There is an urgent need for targeted interventions and support systems to break the cycle of adversity and improve the long-term health outcomes of those who have experienced childhood trauma.”

Researchers conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of 85 studies spanning 75 years, involving 826,452 adults. Studies focusing on high-risk populations, such as homeless individuals, prisoners, or those primarily diagnosed with substance abuse, were excluded. Preterm infants, known to alter pain pathways and exhibit changes in pain perception in adulthood, were also excluded, along with individuals with clear explanations for pain, such as fractures, injuries, burns, diseases, neuropathies, or cancer patients.

Individuals who directly experienced ACEs, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, or neglect, reported a 45% higher likelihood of chronic pain in adulthood compared to those with no reported ACEs. Those reporting childhood physical abuse had a significantly higher probability of reporting chronic pain and pain-related disabilities in adulthood.

Whether experienced alone or in conjunction with indirect ACE events, individuals who underwent any ACE event showed a significant increase in the likelihood of reporting symptoms of chronic pain in adulthood. This included undifferentiated chronic pain, any musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), arthritis, back or neck pain, fibromyalgia, headaches and migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, and pelvic pain. Exposure to any ACEs also elevated the odds of pain-related disabilities. The risk of adult chronic pain significantly increased with each additional ACE, from one to four or more.

The researchers noted, “Our study results suggest that exposure to ACEs is associated with the most common and expensive chronic pain conditions, including back and neck pain and other MSDs, which represent the highest proportion of healthcare expenditures compared to other health conditions. Individuals with ACEs often carry a higher burden of chronic diseases, treatment engagement barriers, and increased healthcare utilization in adulthood.”

While the mechanisms linking ACEs to chronic pain are not fully understood, researchers have proposed hypotheses based on emerging evidence. New findings indicate that ACEs are associated with changes in gene expression affecting brain structure and function. ACEs may be linked to enhanced pain sensitivity in later life. Childhood neglect predicts lower cortisol levels in adulthood, which, in turn, predict increased daily pain and exacerbation of emotional symptoms such as depression and anxiety.

Co-author Jan Hartvigsen emphasized, “These results underscore the urgency of addressing ACE issues, especially considering their prevalence and impact on health. A more nuanced understanding of the exact relationship between ACEs and chronic pain will empower healthcare professionals and policymakers to develop targeted strategies to help mitigate the long-term effects of early adversity on adult health.”

Researchers recommend further studies to delve into the biological mechanisms through which ACEs impact overall lifelong health.

The study was published in the European Journal of Psychotraumatology.

Childhood Trauma Linked to 45% Increase in Adult Chronic Pain Risk

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