Skip to Content

Evaluating Pain in a Child

Topic Overview

When a child is in pain, his or her parents usually know it. But pain can be hard for a child to describe. An older child may be able to describe the pain as sharp or cramping or tell whether the pain comes and goes (intermittent). A child between the ages of 18 months and 3 years may complain of pain or tell you he or she is not feeling well. But the signs of pain in a very young child can sometimes be hard to recognize. Watch for changes in how your child acts.

The signs listed below may help you decide whether your child's pain is mild, moderate, or severe. A child with severe pain will have more of these behaviors, the behaviors will be more constant, and you will be less able to comfort the child. Look for:

  • Changes in usual behavior. Your child may eat less or become fussy or restless.
  • Crying, grunting, or breath-holding.
  • Crying that can't be comforted.
  • Facial expressions, such as a furrowed brow, a wrinkled forehead, closed eyes, or an angry appearance.
  • Sleep changes, such as waking often or sleeping more or less than usual. Even children in severe pain may take short naps because they are so tired.
  • Body movements, such as making fists, guarding a part of the body (especially while walking), kicking, clinging to whoever holds him or her, or not moving.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised February 18, 2013

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2014 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

Decision Points

Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.

You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:

Interactive Tools

Get started learning more about your health!

Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.

Symptom Checker

Feeling under the weather?

Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.

Connect With CentraCare