Karen Smith has lived with chronic pain for 30 years.

“In 1986 I was diagnosed with chronic mechanical low back pain with right leg sciatica,” says Smith.

Smith says her pain has had a major impact on her life. She was unable to work and her condition has been stressful for her family.

A new study happening at the IWK’s Centre for Pediatric Pain Research is examining that family dynamic, specifically the impact of a parent’s chronic pain on their children.

“We know from the research that children whose parents have chronic pain, they often have problems with pain themselves or problems with mental health problems,” says Kristen Higgins, the study’s research lead. “We want to understand what is it that predicts which children might have those problems and which might not."

Higgins says the parent and child are first asked questions about how they think and feel about pain. Then the child performs a cold water task.

“For that, the children place their hands in a tub of cold water and it’s sort of like a minor pain experience for the child,” Higgins tells CTV News. “Then we look at how the parent and child interact in the situation.”

The study is a collaborative effort.

“A lot of pain patients at the pain management unit where we’re collaborating with are asking their clinicians about how does their pain affect their children and what can they do to help their kids so that’s really why we thought this was an important area to study more,” says Higgins.

Smith says she is particularly interested in what will come of this research. As a young adult, she witnessed her own mother’s chronic pain as she fought a losing battle with breast cancer.

“She used a little tool kit of pain coping mechanisms,” Smith recalls. “Music, humor and medication and little did I know ten years after she died that I would be diagnosed with chronic pain myself.”

Higgins hopes to eventually help ease the pain for families affected by this chronic condition.

“There’s not a lot of research in this area yet, so we’re really interested to see what’s going to come out in the end,” she says.

The study is currently looking for participants. Parents must have been living with chronic pain for at least six months, and children must be between eight and 15 years old.