Chronic pain: What is it? What do we know? What are we trying to find out?

Chronic pain can take many forms: arthritis, consequence of an injury, and migraines are a few. Here in the CHILL Pediatric Lab, chronic pain is one of our main research interests. So what exactly is chronic pain? What do we know about chronic pain? And what do we still need to find out?

What is chronic pain?

Chronic pain is a type of pain that lasts for longer than a few months or longer than we would expect with a specific injury and impacts anywhere from 11 to 40% of the United States population (Interagency Pain Research Coordinating Committee. 2016). This pain can take many different forms and even within specific diagnosis can vary greatly, making it difficult to give a specific definition of what chronic pain is. Chronic pain is not just something that adults deal with, but also an issue for many youth. Some research in our lab focuses on pediatric chronic pain more generally, and some projects specifically focus on Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS), a chronic condition that results in pain, fatigue, and a variety of other symptoms (Levy, 2002).

What do we know about chronic pain?

Chronic pain research broadly and research in our lab has given us a lot of information about these disorders. We know that those with chronic pain often experience other symptoms aside from their pain. For example, our hEDS research has supported previous findings for other disorders that there are other physical symptoms associated with the disorder. Those with hEDS also experience fatigue, gastrointestinal distress, and joint instability. Their chronic pain disorder is much more than just pain. Not only are there other physical symptoms, but there are also psychological consequences. We have found increased rates of anxiety and depression in hEDS patients, which has also been found in other chronic pain conditions. 

What do we still need to find out?

There are still so many questions left about chronic pain, and the questions are different for unique conditions. Can we cure chronic pain? What is the best way to manage each condition? How can we help people regain quality of life? What about mental health? These questions continue to fuel research, which is where the CHILL lab comes in! In the past the lab has analyzed sociodemographic and environmental risk factors for chronic pain in pediatric patients, a parent and child interpretations of their condition, and the relationship between pain, peer relationships, and mental health.  

One of the many projects we are currently working on analyzes responses of children with hEDS and their parents to the questions “What makes living with hEDS easier?” and “What is the hardest part about living with hEDS?”. Our hope with this research is to gain an understanding of the different ways that parents and children view a child’s chronic condition. My Master’s thesis will attempt to see what factors, if any, are associated with psychological outcomes in pediatric hEDS patients. I hope to find both what may help and what may hurt mental health in hEDS patients. 



Interagency Pain Research Coordinating Committee. (2016). National pain strategy: a comprehensive population health-level strategy for pain. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health. 

Levy HP. (2004). Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. In: Adam MP, Ardinger HH, Pagon RA, et al., (Eds.). GeneReviews [Internet]. Seattle, WA: University of Washington, Seattle. Available from:

SPPAC 2019

In April, members of the Pediatric CHILL Lab went to New Orleans for the Society of Pediatric Society Annual Conference.

Attending a national conference every year provides me with exposure to the most recent research being done in my field and allows me an opportunity to build connections.  This past April, members of the Pediatric CHILL Lab attended the Society of Pediatric Society Annual Conference (SPPAC) in New Orleans, LA.  What I love about SPPAC is the exposure to many different areas of pediatric psychology that I might not have exposure to through my research and clinical training.  Last year when I attended this conference, I happened to attend a talk focused on an unfamiliar area of pediatrics, integrative primary care.  Through this presentation, I realized how well this field aligned with my interests; integrative primary care has a community based component and also a focus on interdisciplinary care. 

After gaining knowledge about this field, I made it my goal to learn about the field by attending relevant poster sessions and talks.  SPPAC offers an exciting opportunity for trainees to attend a mentoring lunch to connect with an established clinician or researcher in the field.  I met with a pediatric psychologist who works in integrative primary care which allowed me an opportunity to ask questions about the field and find ways to gain training in primary care. 

Attending a national conference is a one-stop shop place to build connections, learn about research, and connect with old friends.  I always leave conferences feeling inspired and excited to explore new ideas.