Pain Squad app for Sick Kids

Pain Sucks

Pain Squad app for sick kids is an important health tool. Let’s face it, pain is not easy to describe but doing so provides information to help track the progress of your recovery. It is also a key that helps professionals better understand how you are reacting to medications. Describing pain is confusing because it requires interpreting a felt subjective experience into language. Think about it, can you tell the difference between throbbing pain and shooting pain?

Physicians have a wide vocabulary on pain because they look beyond the feeling alone. When talking with patients many DR.’s make use of an intensity scale. Personally, I don’t like playing pain-by-numbers. Nonetheless, it can be a good starting point. The key is to find a frame of reference your doctor(s) can use to form comparisons that are unique to you.

Identifying a type of pain is another clue in investigation practices. Burning, dull, sharp, aching, numbing, tingling, and more are character categories that can be further broken down.

Since pain is not a pleasant experience, once it dissipates we tend to put it out of our mind. Therefore, talking about it later during physician appointments we rely on our memory. I’m not certain who developed this tool, but the pain action website refers to the LOCATES pain memory aid. It nicely layouts a frame of reference to use for discussions.

How to talk about pain

 The LOCATES formula

L: Location of the pain and whether it travels to other body parts.
O: Other associated symptoms such as nausea, numbness, or weakness.
C: Character of the pain, whether it’s throbbing, sharp, dull, or burning.
A: Aggravating and alleviating factors. What makes the pain better or worse?
T: Timing of the pain, how long it lasts, is it constant or intermittent?
E: Environment where the pain occurs, for example, while working or at home.
S: Severity of the pain. Use a 0-to-10 pain scale from no pain to worst ever.

Pain and Children

Children have a much harder time adequately describing their pain. Their age and level of language development is a contributing factor. But, so is their sense of self and comfort level in talking with adults. Their exposure to adults beyond their family may be limited.

The hospital for Sick Kids in Toronto wanted to encourage young cancer patients to report about their experience of pain. This information would better equip medical personnel to make treatment and medication adjustments. Doctors wanted to understand a child’s perspective of pain.

Initially, children were provided paper-based diaries to report their experiences. It displayed variations of the smiley face icon and words. The compliance rate or use of this tool was low but this changed thanks to the Pain Squad app for sick kids.

Pain Tool Creation

Pain Squad app for Sick Kids

Jennifer Stinson, a clinician-scientist from Sick Kids Hospital, created the award-winning app called Pain Squad. The goal was to design a reporting tool to help look at issues related to pain for children undergoing treatment for cancer. Pain Squad app for sick kids allows patients to track levels and categories of pain with a tool (an iPhone) they keep on hand. The app idea came from the Gumshoe app, bringing mystery-solving and gamify pain into the journaling.

Pain Squad Hospital

Motivate and Reward

Pain Squad app for sick kids has built-in alarms and prompts. Kids enjoy the process and can easily follow them. A unique feature of the app is the inclusion of motivation that is offered from TV stars from police shows like, Flash Point and Rookie Blue. Cast members were filmed to encourage kids to use and fill in reports. Their messages appear as part of the reward component. Compliance rates to report about pain increased to 90% once the app was introduced.

Pain Squad Team


Being able to report about pain strengthens the relationship with medical professionals for children. And, physicians can garner insights on the effects of chemotherapy versus radiation, for example. Bringing the app to fruition took some time and it is now used at other pediatric centres across Canada.

Pain Squad is now available from iTunes

Here is a video explainer


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