The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 20 percent of Americans live with chronic pain. Understanding how to manage and treat pain is a central goal of NICHD research. For instance:
- Pain is a common feature of many gynecological conditions, such as endometriosis, pelvic adhesions, and pelvic inflammatory disease. Pain and pain management also are routine parts of the pelvic surgeries used to treat certain gynecologic conditions.
- Most critically ill and injured children require short-term pain management while receiving care in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and longer duration pain management after discharge.
- Rehabilitation for physical impairments, such as traumatic brain injury, and disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, must include strategies for managing acute and chronic pain.
- Patient perceptions of pain can be psychologically mediated and modified nonpharmacologically.
- Understanding risk factors for chronic pain and preventing acute-to-chronic pain transition are critical for improving developmental and health outcomes.
- Identifying safe and effective options for pain management is a critical aspect of prenatal and postpartum care, care during labor and childbirth, and routine or intensive newborn care.
Pain is one of the most common reasons for a person to be prescribed opioids, increasing the risk of opioid use disorder. For more on NICHD’s research related to opioids, visit our Opioid-related Research Supported by NICHD webpage.
NICHD supports and conducts multiple efforts related to pain in a variety of groups, including children, women of reproductive age, as well as pregnant and lactating women, and people with disabilities. The institute is also part of the NIH Pain Consortium, which aims to enhance pain research and promote collaboration across NIH. We describe some of NICHD's pain-related efforts on this page.
Several NICHD components support pain-related research.
Division of Extramural Research (DER)
Visit https://www.nichd.nih.gov/about/org/der/branches for a full list of NICHD DER program areas and priorities.
- Child Development and Behavior Branch: Supports research on behavioral/psychological approaches to pain management and prevention, risk factors for chronic pain, prevention of transition from acute-to-chronic pain, and patient-provider decision-making regarding pain management.
Contact: Karen Lee, M.D., M.P.H.
- Gynecologic Health and Disease Branch: Supports multidisciplinary clinical, translational, and basic research on gynecologic pain conditions including chronic pelvic pain, painful menses (dysmenorrhea), and vulvodynia, among others, as well as investigations underlying the mechanisms both in common with and distinct from other chronic pain conditions.
Contact: Jennie Conroy, Ph.D.
- Obstetric and Pediatric Pharmacology and Therapeutics Branch: Supports developmental pharmacology and other initiatives that explore mechanisms of drug action in pregnant and lactating women and pediatric populations, including drugs used to manage pain, pain biomarkers, and pain measurement.
Contact: Zhaoxia Ren, M.D., Ph.D.
- Pediatric Trauma and Critical Illness Branch: Addresses pain management for critically ill or injured children, as well as pain management for children with special healthcare needs, including those who have had adverse childhood experiences.
Contact: Valerie Maholmes, Ph.D., CAS
- Pregnancy and Perinatology Branch: Supports development of equipment, devices, tests, and other diagnostic, monitoring, and therapeutic strategies to eliminate or dramatically reduce the magnitude of pain during routine or intensive newborn care.
Contact: Andrew Bremer, M.D., Ph.D., M.A.S.
Division of Intramural Research (DIR)
Visit https://www.nichd.nih.gov/about/org/dir/affinity-groups for a full list of NICHD DIR affinity groups.
- Fields Lab: Section on Nervous System Development and Plasticity
Contact: R. Douglas Fields, Ph.D.
- Projects include research on chronic pain as it relates to Gulf War Illness and the regulation of gene expression by action-potential firing patterns. 2018 DIR Annual Report: Nervous System Development and Plasticity
- Belgrad, J., Dutta, D. J., Bromley-Coolidge, S., Kelly, K. A., Michalovicz, L. T., Sullivan, K. A., O’Callaghan, J. P., & Fields, R. D. (2019). Oligodendrocyte involvement in Gulf War Illness. GLIA, 1-18. PMID: 31339622
- Le Pichon Lab: Unit on the Development of Neurodegeneration
Contact: Claire Le Pichon, Ph.D.
- 2018 DIR Annual Report: The Neuronal Stress Response in Neurodegenerative Disease and Pain
National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research (NCMRR)
NCMRR supports basic, translational, and clinical research to help enhance the health, productivity, independence, and quality of life of people with physical disabilities. Pain-related research interests include rehabilitative interventions and strategies involving pharmaceutical, stimulation, and bioengineering approaches; exercise; motor training; occupational therapy; and behavioral modifications for management of pain in individuals with physical disabilities. Rehabilitation prevention and treatment strategies for mitigating pain, a key secondary condition associated with physical impairments and disabilities, are strongly encouraged. For a full list of research program areas and priorities, visit https://www.nichd.nih.gov/about/org/ncmrr/programareas.
Contact: Susan Marden, Ph.D.
- NOT-HD-19-020: Mechanisms Underlying the Contribution of Sleep Disturbances to Pain
- PA-18-937: Research on Chronic Overlapping Pain Conditions: Clinical Trial Optional (R01)
- PA-18-465: Developing the Therapeutic Potential of the Endocannabinoid System for Pain Treatment: Clinical Trial Optional (R01)
- PA-18-141: Mechanisms, Models, Measurement, and Management in Pain Research: Clinical Trial Optional (R01)
- PA-18-159: Mechanisms, Models, Measurement, and Management in Pain Research: Clinical Trial Optional (R21)
- PA-18-038: Safety and Outcome Measures of Pain Medications Used in Children and Pregnant Women: Clinical Trial Optional (R01)
- PA-18-044: Safety and Outcome Measures of Pain Medications Used in Children and Pregnant Women: Clinical Trial Optional (R03)
- PA-18-043: Safety and Outcome Measures of Pain Medications Used in Children and Pregnant Women: Clinical Trial Optional (R21)
The following list includes some pain-related findings from NICHD-funded research. Visit https://www.nichd.nih.gov/newsroom/news to search all NICHD news items.
- Science Update: Youth with chronic pain more likely to have lower educational, career achievement, suggests NICHD-funded study
- Director's Corner: Addressing opioid withdrawal in newborns, improving pain management for women
- Science Update: Some preterm infants produce substance that protects against brain injury, NIH-funded study suggests
- Science Update: Females with a concussion more likely than males to have neck injury, NIH-funded study suggests
- Release: NIH to fund national data collection on new mothers with disabilities
- Science Update: Nearly a third of children with concussion experience symptoms for a year, NICHD-funded study finds
- Release: NIH, DoD to Develop Limb Loss and Preservation Registry
- Science Update: NIH study uncovers protein responsible for post-nerve-injury pain and inflammation
- Spotlight: Focus on Pediatric Trauma and Critical Illness
- Item of Interest: NICHD announces gynecologic health and disease research themes and scientific vision
- Spotlight: What to Know About Endometriosis
- Focus on Caring for Critically Ill Children
- Researchers identify source of inflammatory cells in endometriosis
- NCMRR Research Expands Options for Wounded Veterans and Other Amputees
- Pelvic pain may be common among reproductive-age women, NIH study finds
- Advances in Pediatric Trauma and Critical Illness Research Strategic Plan: Building the Field, Advancing the Science (PDF 664 KB)
- Gynecologic Health and Disease Research at NICHD: A Scientific Vision (PDF 1.6 MB)
- NIH HEAL InitiativeSM website
- NIH Pain Consortium
- NIH Research Plan on Rehabilitation (PDF 443 KB)
- NIH Research Plan on Vulvodynia (PDF 746 KB)
- Opioid-related Research Supported by NICHD