Breaking the Cycle of Chronic Pain and Discomfort in Young Patients

Breaking the Cycle of Chronic Pain and Discomfort in Young Patients 1024 575 Pam Georgiana
Teen girl with backpack

The Comfort Ability Program at Nationwide Children’s brings specialized care to patients with chronic pain and discomfort.

In January 2023, the wait for patients to see a pediatric pain psychologist at Nationwide Children’s was approximately nine months. This delay was due to the limited number of providers available. While they waited for treatment, these young patients were on a concerning path to lifelong chronic pain and discomfort issues.

“The longer kids experience discomfort and pain, the more likely they’ll feel it for life. In childhood and adolescence, the brain is constantly processing and conditioning itself,” Jacqueline N. Warner, PhD explains. “We need to get kids into treatment fast. Time elapsing is significant to the likelihood their condition will become disabling.”

Dr. Warner is a pediatric psychologist specializing in pain and discomfort management and the site director for the Comfort Ability Program at Nationwide Children’s. She and a skilled team of pediatric pain psychologists at Nationwide Children’s have worked diligently to make this program available to the community.

The Comfort Ability Program teaches kids (ages 10-17) and caregivers skills to manage chronic pain or recurring discomfort, including nausea, fatigue, weakness, or dizziness. The one-day workshop was developed by Harvard University and Boston Children’s Hospital.

“There are concrete skills we can teach patients and families to get them closer to comfort or even eliminate discomfort in the long-run. With these skills, patients may be able to avoid lifelong issues that hinder their quality of life,” Dr. Warner explains.

The program delivers cognitive behavioral therapy for managing pain and discomfort. Kids and teens participate in one 6-hour session, meeting others experiencing similar symptoms in a safe and supportive environment. During the session, they develop a plan to improve their quality of life despite their pain or discomfort.

Meanwhile, caregivers participate in their own 6-hour session. They learn ways to support their child, receive tools to help improve their child’s daily functioning, and create a plan to help manage their child’s discomfort.

Typically, traditional pain management therapy involves at least 6 to 8 weeks of weekly sessions and often toggles between both patients and caregivers. Since many families cannot make that kind of commitment, the Comfort Ability program is a more accessible and comprehensive option. Pediatric pain psychologists, like Dr. Warner, deliver the workshop.

Because there is a documented population overlap between conditions of chronic discomfort and conditions of neurodivergence such as autism and a lack of providers who are cross-trained in these areas, the Comfort Ability team at Nationwide Children’s created a strategic partnership with The Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders (CASD). Staff from the CASD serve as co-facilitators for every Comfort Ability workshop so providers can learn from each other, become cross-trained, and meet the nuanced needs of youth with chronic discomfort and neurodivergent qualities as they participate in the program.

Within 6 months, the program has shortened the waitlist for pain management providers significantly.

“Our waitlist is down to about a month, which means more and more kids are able to receive prompt support. The even better news is that the outcomes have been incredible,” Dr. Warner says. “At the end of the workshop, patients and caregivers report they feel ready to return to their daily lives, even if symptoms are still happening. They say they feel more confident in managing symptoms and hopeful for the future.”

Within one week of completing the workshop, patients describe significant improvements in their quality of life. They are able to get back to participating in the daily activities of living, including school, activities, sports, and socializing with friends. Program leaders plan to create a research team to track patient improvement over time.

“The science of neuroplasticity is real. With the right tools, kids experiencing pain and discomfort can re-map their brains to provide themselves a better quality of life,” Dr. Warner explains.

Nationwide Children’s Comfort Ability program takes place once a month at the Big Lots Behavioral Health Pavilion from 8:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Each workshop can support up to 12 families. Lunch and parking are included. Registration is ongoing. This program bills through insurance. For more information, visit the website.



About the author

Pam Georgiana is a brand marketing professional and writer located in Bexley, Ohio. She believes that words bind us together as humans and that the best stories remind us of our humanity. She specialized in telling engaging stories for healthcare, B2B services, and nonprofits using classic storytelling techniques. Pam has earned an MBA in Marketing from Capital University in Columbus, Ohio.