Stuffed Animals Keep the Pain at Bay

Children playing after surgery report experiencing lower amounts of pain

(RxWiki News) It's no fun to undergo surgery - especially if you're a kid. And perhaps the worst part is feeling pain afterward. Never fear! Playtime is here!

That's right - a recent study found that playing with your child after a surgery appears to reduce how much pain the child feels.

Researchers compared two groups of children after surgery. The group who played with a stuffed animal and their parents afterward reported feeling less pain.

"Play with kids after they've had surgery."

The study, led by Ana M. Ullán, PhD, of the University of Salamanca, looked at whether distracting children with playing led them to experience less pain from medical procedures.

The study involved all the children between the ages of 1 and 7 who underwent surgery at the University Hospital of Salamanca between May and September of 2011, as long as surgery occurred during the daytime and the parents gave their permission.

The 95 children in the study were split into two groups. One group was the control group, so nothing unusual was done for them beyond usual post-surgical care.

The other group was given a stuffed animal, and their parents were told to play with the children during the period after their surgery.

Meanwhile, the researchers measured the children's pain levels with a standard pain scale that is often used for children. The pain scale they used has been shown to produce similarly reliable results as other pain scales used for children.

The children's pain levels were assessed immediately after they woke up from their surgery, an hour after their surgery and then two hours after that.

The researchers took into account in their analysis the age and sex of the child, the reason for and type of surgery they underwent and the type and amount of pain reliever they received.

At all three measurements, the children who were in the play group had lower pain scores than the children in the control group by an average of about one point on a 6-point scale.

The researchers said the distraction of playing may have contributed to a lower perception of pain among children in the play group, since past research has shown that pain often seems less intense when a person is distracted.

The playing also could have improved the moods of the children and/or their parents, which may have also influenced the children's perception of pain.

Either way, playing with kids after a surgery, especially with a stuffed animal, appeared to play some part in helping reduce the pain they experienced.

"The programs of play in hospitals are a possibility of intervention that, in our opinion, should be seriously considered," the researchers wrote. "Everything indicates that it can contribute to the children’s well-being, favoring a multimodal coping with pediatric pain and presenting no adverse side effects."

The study was published in the journal Pain Management Nursing. The research was funded by The Council of Education of the Junta of Castilla and Leon in Spain and the Spanish Ministry of Education.

Review Date: 
February 10, 2013