Pain Treatment Center

Research suggests that 30 to 40 percent of children and teens complain of pain that occurs at least once per week. Every year, the clinicians in the Pain Treatment Center at Boston Children's Hospital care for more than 2,000 children of all ages who have pain from a wide range of medical conditions. Children with cancer, sickle cell disease, hemophilia, AIDS, cystic fibrosis and other medical diseases form a challenging but rewarding group of patients.

Founded in 1986, the Pain Treatment Center — a division of the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine — was the first multidisciplinary program in the world to provide treatment and support for acute and chronic pain in children and young adults. It is the most clinically active program of its kind in the world.

Our approach to pain

We embrace a state-of-the-art team approach to pain management that encourages children and families as active players in their own care. Patients seen by the Pain Treatment Center receive care from anesthesiologists, neurologists and pediatricians, in addition to evaluation by a psychologist who specializes in pain management through cognitive-behavioral therapy and a physical therapist.

On our Inpatient Pain Service, about half of our patients receive patient-controlled analgesia (a method of administering analgesia through a pump activated by the patient), while another quarter receives epidural anesthesia (in which pain medications are injected through a thin tube or catheter embedded in the lower back). The remainder receives a variety of treatments tailored to their individual needs.

Our areas of innovation

In 1991, the Pain Treatment Center conducted the world's first randomized trial of patient-controlled analgesia in pediatrics. Children and adolescents who were allowed to control their own dosage of analgesia after major orthopedic surgery expressed less pain and greater satisfaction than patients receiving morphine administered intramuscularly. They were less sedated, as well. This groundbreaking trial paved the way for today's frequent use of patient-controlled analgesia worldwide.

Since then, the researchers and clinicians in the Pain Treatment Center have continued to drive the study and treatment of pain in children and adolescents. For example, we conducted the first preclinical and Phase 1 trials of neosaxitoxin, the first new pediatric local anesthetic in more than 60 years. Our investigators are also actively studying the effects of opioids and other analgesics in infants and children and researching the genetic underpinnings of different forms of chronic pain.