Chronic Pain: Children face extra challenges

Ellen Christian, 18, has struggled with burning pain in her knee for 5 years

By Susana da Silva, CBC News

For Ellen Christian, 18, the pain started as a twinge in her knee while on vacation five years ago. In a matter of three months, she was bedridden. 

"It just was burning, all the time, like someone had a flame right underneath my knee and it was burning, and then someone was just stabbing it, all the time," she explained.

Christian said there soon came a point when taking a shower was excruciating.

"The shower would be the most painful experience because water hitting it was not fun. So I had to learn how to shower holding my leg out of the water, which didn't really work, but it was just nothing could touch it, and it was unrelenting."

Dismissed as growing pains

At first, Christian's pain was dismissed as growing pains, but soon it was clear it was more than that. Her parents took her to their family doctor, who was baffled.

"We had had X-rays, there was no break. We then had an ultrasound, and there didn't seem to be any muscle damage," said Ellen's father, Jonathan.

"He'd referred us to an arthritis specialist who did all the blood tests, and said there is no arthritis. We looked at a pediatric surgeon, and then he looked at her X-rays and said there is nothing wrong, and at this point, the knee is almost three times the size of the other knee."

Christian's family doctor referred her to the pain clinic at B.C. Children's Hospital in Vancouver, but he said the wait list would be at least six months.

By then, Christian was in a wheelchair and unable to go to school, so her family made an emergency visit to the Children's Hospital, and she was able to see a pain specialist two days later.

That's when she finally got a diagnosis: complex regional pain syndrome, also known as CRPS.

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