Pain medication use for musculoskeletal pain among children and adolescents: a systematic review

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OBJECTIVES: Musculoskeletal pain is common among children and adolescents. Despite the lack of evidence regarding harms and benefits, musculoskeletal pain is often managed with pain medication. The aim of this systematic review is to assess the prevalence of pain medication use for musculoskeletal pain among children and adolescents and the factors and side effects associated with use.

CONTENT: Three databases (EMBASE, CINAHL and PsychINFO) were systematically searched to identify studies designed to examine the prevalence, frequency or factors associated with the use of pain medication for musculoskeletal pain in children and adolescents (aged 6-19 years). The included studies were assessed for study quality and data were extracted.

SUMMARY: The search initially provided 20,135 studies. After screening titles, abstracts and full-texts, 20 studies were included. In school settings, 8-42% of children used pain medication for musculoskeletal pain, and 67-75% of children in sports clubs and from pain clinics used pain medication. The most consistent factors associated with the use of pain medications were pain characteristics and psychological factors (e.g. being bullied, low-self-esteem), while mixed evidence was found for increasing age and female gender. Only two studies reported on the duration of use and only one study on adverse effects related to the use of pain medication.

OUTLOOK: We found that 8-42% of adolescents from school-based samples use pain medication for MSK pain, while the prevalence among adolescents from sports clubs and pain clinics is higher (67-75%). Pain characteristics (pain duration, severity, intensity, disability levels and the presence of ≥2 pain conditions or multisite pain) and psychological factors were associated with a higher use of pain medication, while for higher age and female gender the evidence of association was mixed. Future studies should systematically collect information on the type, duration of use of pain medication and side effects to confirm the findings of this review.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20210033
JournalScandinavian Journal of Pain
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)653-670
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

© 2021 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston.


  • adolescent
  • children
  • musculoskeletal pain
  • pain medication


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