New WHO guideline on chronic pain management for children

The World Health Organization recognizes chronic pain as a major health challenge. Not only for adults and the elderly but also a quarter of children & young people.

Access to pain management is a fundamental human right. Children have the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health.

Human Rights Council of the United Nations & United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

The WHO released a new document to replace the guideline of 2012 which focused mainly on the pharmacological treatment of persistent pain. So, what do they recommend and what is new? 

5 Recommendations for pain management in children

1. Move & get active. Start slowly, pace and it will get easier!

2. Challenge your thinking, your behaviour & increase resilience. Pain management can be supported through psychological interventions like cognitive behavioural therapy and relaxation techniques. It can be done face-to-face or even via remote solutions.

3. For some chronic pain conditions in children, pain killers can help.

4. Depending on the condition and severity, even very strong pain killers can be helpful. They should be given by appropriately trained healthcare providers.

The Biopsychosocial Model of pain management

The new guideline highlights the importance of seeing chronic pain as a complex multidimensional experience. Pain has to be looked at from three perspectives: the biological, psychological, and social perspective. All of these aspects play a role in the diagnosis as well as treatment of chronic pain. 

Child- and Family-Centred Care

We cannot look at young people in isolation, they are integrated with their family or social surroundings. And so are the effects of chronic pain which not only land on the young person but also parents, siblings, and friends. 

Care of children with chronic pain should focus on, and be organized around, the health needs, preferences and expectations of the child, and their families and communities.

Care of children with chronic pain should be tailored to the family’s values, culture, preferences and resources. 

Care of children with chronic pain should promote engagement and support children and their families to play an active role in care through informed and shared decision-making.

WHO Guideline on chronic pain management in children (2020)

Meetings Personal Needs  

The complexity of chronic pain and its links to a young person’s daily lives demand the tailoring of management strategies. Before suggesting a treatment pathway, we have to understand the child’s underlying condition, physical, social, and emotional needs, as well as their abilities. 

See the full guideline here


WHO press release on new guideline
WHO guidelines on the management of chronic pain in children (2020)
WHO Guidelines on the Pharmacological Treatment of Persisting Pain in Children with Medical Illnesses (2012)
What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
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