Chronic Pain in Young People: A Product of High-Risk Behavior

  • Pediatric trauma surgeons are sounding the alarm about the increasing rate of accidents and risky behavior amongst young people. Recent studies looking at the rate of injuries for ATV riding, snowboarding, skiing, and wakeboarding have all come to the same conclusion: speed plus youth equals painful injuries. Unfortunately, many twenty- something-year-olds are finding out that an accumulation of injuries can lead to chronic pain.  No longer is pain just an ailment of the elderly. Chronic pain is truly a multi-generational problem. Breaking this heritage of chronic pain can begin by preventing injuries in young people.

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    Lately, many research teams have been trying to evaluate the problems with these highly popular, high-risk activities. This month a team of researchers from France raised a valid question: Does the increased use of protective gear lead to riskier behavior? They discovered that despite the use of protective gear, like helmets, the frequency of traumatic injuries was not declining. Although the severity of harm has reduced, injuries are still occurring frequently. And nearly 70% of these injuries require surgery. Do young people think that a helmet is so completely protective that they can just fling themselves down the mountain with no regard to safety? That is a false sense of security. Now with the rising popularity of snowboarding, even life-threatening injuries are steadily increasing. Wakeboarding is also very popular and causing an increase of chronic knee, shoulder, and ankle pain. Some agencies are considering the requirement of helmets for wakeboarders because head injuries are also very common. Yet even with protective gear, the youth of this world are continuing to batter their bodies beyond repair. Safety gear cannot replace good decisions. And good sense has trouble keeping up with the speed of the modern world.


    This modern world of technology has also given rise to another hugely popular recreation device: all-terrain vehicles. In a recent report, doctors stated that ATV use lead to 136,100 emergency room visits and 767 fatalities in 2004 alone. The common denominators for these traumatic injuries were youth and speed. Sadly, many ATV accidents cause serious spinal injuries with permanent nerve damage. Some doctors are calling for more regulation in the form of licensing drivers, training drivers, and policing for alcohol and drug use while operating an ATV. Can we really police our way out of an epidemic of painful injuries? With the increasing frequency of traumatic accidents, we are destined to have future generations of chronic pain patients unless we do something.


    Pain does not have to be as inevitable as two plus two equaling four. The pain equation often times begins with youth and speed. But, if we teach children to minimize risk and unsafe speeds, a future generation can be saved from chronic pain. Even though this is a difficult task, stopping the epidemic of chronic pain is worth it. When it comes to the popular activities like ATV riding, snowboarding, skiing and wakeboarding, it may be a matter of parents recognizing the high rates of injuries in certain activities and avoiding these injuries by finding a suitable substitute activity. Too often, young people have a sense of invincibility. This "no fear" attitude has consequences especially when combined with risky activities. Some people with chronic pain are living proof that risk-taking behavior has consequences and old injuries do come back to haunt you. Those of us who know what it is like to live with chronic pain should be the strongest advocates for injury prevention. Let's help to take pain out of the equation for future generations!

Published On: November 07, 2008