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Pain Language: Let Kids Learn the Lingo Pain Language: Let Kids Learn the Lingo
Written by: Julie Paul, BSc (HealthSciences), MScPT Pediatric Physiotherapist at Kids Physio Group (North Van & Vancouver) How many times have you said “I... Pain Language: Let Kids Learn the Lingo

Written by: Julie Paul, BSc (HealthSciences), MScPT Pediatric Physiotherapist at Kids Physio Group (North Van & Vancouver)

Kids Physio Group Julie Pain language

How many times have you said “I have a pounding headache”? Or “My back is aching like crazy”? Or “My knee is throbbing”? We use a wide range of descriptive language to express pain as adults. This helps others understand what we are feeling, how to help us, or why we have our hands on our head and a bottle of Advil on our desk. When kids are young, we sometimes use simpler language such as saying they ‘hurt’ their ankle or that they have an ‘ouchie’ or ‘boo-boo’, depending on their age. Much of the time, kids may use this same language as the only descriptor of pain, because that’s all they understand, based on their experiences.

Everyday during physiotherapy sessions, I communicate with children about what they are feeling physically. In every circumstance, it is important to help them learn how to express themselves. This not only helps with safety and progress during our kids-specific physiotherapy sessions, but it also encourages children to be mindful their bodies and to communicate what they are feeling.

To help your child learn the pain lingo, try asking some of these questions at home after they have been injured. Here’s an example using a simple scrape on the arm. Your child might start to notice pain more accurately; maybe noticing change like improvement or worsening, since the day of the injury.

  1. Ask what happened (history of Injury):
    –   This may seem straight forward “I fell off my bike and hurt my arm”, but the language you use in your response can teach them about having attention to detail: “Oh, so you fell off your bike onto your right arm, and scraped your wrist?”
  2.  Ask what they think they should do about it? (intensity of injury):
    –   Deeper than a yes or no question!  We get more information!
    –   “Do you think you need a bandaid, or some ice, or should we see the doctor?”
    –   Try to get them to rate their pain on a scale of 0-10
  3.  Ask an open-ended “What does it feel like?”. (quality  of injury)
    –   Give some examples: Achy? Hot? Tingly? Not pain but more of a stretch? Like a bruise?
  4. Ask your child to point to the injury spot with one finger
    –   can help you identify if it’s something worrisome, or expected based on what happened during their injury.

Pain language:  Kids Physio Group

While this was a straight forward example of a scraped arm from a fall, the concepts can also relate to any injury. For example, concussion in youth, a common condition seen at Kids Physio Group. It is very important for child to understand how to describe the range of symptoms they are experiencing in order to help identify improvements and stay motivated throughout physiotherapy treatments.

At the other end of the spectrum, we don’t want kids to feel chronic pain or catastrophize what they’re feeling by always being focused on it.  Awareness of pain and knowing how to describe it is the best start to being able to fix it! As with most things in life, there’s a fine art to finding balance.

Pain language Kids Physio Group

Kids Physio Group Logo About Julie Paul:

Julie is a pediatric physiotherapist working at Kids Physio Group’s Vancouver and North Vancouver locations. She is passionate about treating kids and helping them get back to sport and activity following injury. For more information about Julie – please visit

Kids Physio Group

Kids Physio Group was founded in 2006 by Laura Patrick (née Turner). Since that time, Kids Physio Group has focused on doing one thing – providing specialized, one-on-one physiotherapy services to children in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland in a fun environment. Website: Twitter: @kidsphysio Facebook: kidsphysiogroup

  • Arlene Elendiuk

    March 20, 2015 #1 Author

    Wonderful article!!


  • Lara Maracle

    March 20, 2015 #2 Author

    Very informative article Julie! Helpful tips I will definitely be using!
    Lara maracle


  • Kam

    May 15, 2015 #3 Author

    Nice article. I think sometimes we get caught asking yes or no questions instead of asking open ended questions which can be way more informative!


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