Aboriginal Children and Physical Pain: What Do We Know?

  • Margot Latimer Associate Professor, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia; Faculty, Centre for Pediatric Pain Research, IWK Health Centre, Halifax Nova Scotia
  • Shelley Young Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia
  • Carmen Dell Nursing student, Aboriginal Liaison, Faculty of Health Professions, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia; Atlantic Aboriginal Health Research Program Intern
  • G. Allen Finley Professor Anesthesia & Psychology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Keywords: Aboriginal children, youth, pain expression, pain interpretation, cross-cultural understanding


All children experience body pain as a result of medical procedures, vaccinations, and a variety of chronic conditions. Children are a vulnerable population and may be even more at risk to experience pain in under-resourced environments. We know that physical pain in childhood causes suffering to the child, family, and caregivers, and can also cause prolonged physiological and immune effects lasting into adulthood. There is evidence that Aboriginal children and youth experience pain at higher rates than their non-Aboriginal counterparts. First Nations youth report that pain issues have kept them from participating in essential developmental activities such as school and sports. Effective pain care increases a child’s ability to participate in activities that are meant to enhance well-being and prepare them to be healthy adults. Currently, there is no reliable way for First Nations children and youth to convey the intensity and quality of their pain. This makes it difficult for health professionals to measure it and likely influences whether it is adequately treated or not. In this paper, we will discuss some of the historical and cultural perspectives that may be helpful in understanding pain in Aboriginal children. In addition, we will discuss what is known about pain expression, assessment, management, and health professionals’ empathy for pain cross-culturally as well as the next logical steps to address some of these issues.