Missing school. Frequent visits to the emergency room. Spending days in bed. Feeling depressed. This was what Amelia’s life looked like after a sports injury left her in constant pain. Amelia, once a vibrant and active teenager, watched as her life, health, and schoolwork spiraled downwards. She eventually was diagnosed with amplified musculoskeletal pain syndrome (AMPS), a debilitating condition where kids feel moderate to severe pain in muscles and joints despite an injury. As Amelia and her family discovered, chronic pain is something that others can’t see, but it’s very real and can deeply affect those who experience it.
“Our daughter went from being active in sports and having a great time to spending a lot of time in bed,” says her mom, Katie. “She used to be really smart and do well in school, even in advanced classes. But then, things changed, and she struggled with her schoolwork.”
It was hard for the family to watch her suffer, so Amelia’s mom jumped into action. She researched day and night and eventually found the Inpatient Chronic Pain Program at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego, where a comprehensive approach is used to help kids and teens facing chronic pain. It’s a 28-day inpatient program for children, adolescents and young adults — typically ages 11 to 21 — with chronic pain who continue to have significant pain and dysfunction despite trying various outpatient therapies. It’s also an opioid- and pain medication-free program, which was important for the family.
“Our program focuses on helping the whole child, addressing everything about them, like their physical health, social life, and emotions,” says Anke Reineke, PhD, psychologist and program director of the Inpatient Chronic Pain Program at Rady Children’s. “Because often, for kids with chronic pain, it’s not just about their body hurting; it affects how they feel and think too.”
Instead of relying on pain medication, the program provides coping strategies and healthier ways to deal with pain. While in the Inpatient Chronic Pain Program, Amelia tried unique therapies like aquatic pool therapy, music, art, and storytelling through the Rady Children’s Healing Arts Program. She also enjoyed massage, acupuncture, and Healing Touch through the Rady Children’s Integrative Medicine Program, as well as individual and group psychotherapy. These therapies were provided by a multidisciplinary team from across the health system, including pediatric physicians, nurses, a patient navigator, physical therapists, occupational therapists, a psychiatrist as needed, psychologists, recreational therapists and teachers. The team ensured a comprehensive, holistic and playful approach to her treatment.
“Even though it’s hard, the program is also a lot of fun,” says Amelia. “We laugh a lot during the sessions. The therapists are really good at working with us and making exercises feel like games. It’s hard work, but it doesn’t feel like work; it’s just fun. I’ve started feeling happier since I realized I don’t have to be stuck doing nothing forever.”
The team at Rady Children’s provided Amelia with the tools and support she needed to take back control of her life and discover hope again.
“This program helps patients and families to dream again,” adds Anke. “I am so proud to be a part of this team and so thrilled for Amelia and her family. Amelia can look forward to a future where her pain will no longer define her and where she can lead a healthy and active life once again.”