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Psychosomatic musculoskeletal pain in childhood: clinical and psychological analyses of 100 children.


Stress, Psychological, Adolescent, Child, Child, Preschool, Family, Female, Humans, Male, Musculoskeletal Diseases, psychology, Pain, etiology, Pain Management, Psychological Tests, Psychophysiologic Disorders, Psychotherapy

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      The clinical and psychological findings on 100 children with psychosomatic musculoskeletal pain seen at a major pediatric rheumatology referral center are reported. Most (76%) were female, median age was 13 years, and median duration of symptoms was 1 year. Multiple painful sites were common (66%). The pain was constant (63%) or intermittent (37%); 45% had hyperesthesia, and almost all maintained a cheerful affect when complaining of severe pain. Two predominant abnormal family milieu were seen. One was cohesive, stable, and organized, but intolerant of separation and individuation. The other was chaotic, emotionally unsupportive, with high levels of conflict. Members of the cohesive family type reported significantly less distress than members of chaotic families. Enmeshment between mother and child was common in both family types. Although frequently viewed as bright, most of these children had normal intelligence, and some had unrecognized academic difficulty. These children, compared with those with arthritis, had a significantly lower global well-being score. Clinical depression was unusual (11%). Most (97%) responded favorably to intensive physical and occupational therapy along with individual or family psychotherapy; 78% become symptom free or fully functional. Children with these signs and symptoms should have full psychological evaluations and respond well to treatment directed toward decreasing pain and restoring function.

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