Many parents have had the disconcerting experience of their child complaining of phantom pains. Whether the pain is a headache, a stomachache, or some other type of discomfort, it can be difficult to treat pain that is not actually caused by a medical problem or injury.

The placebo effect is an effect of a placebo medication that makes the patient feel better, despite not containing any medication that would cure symptoms. There is evidence that the placebo effect is a safe and effective way to treat phantom pains in children.

The Placebo Effect Isn’t Just Psychological

Some patients believe that the placebo effect is simply “mind over matter.” Researchers have found, however, that the effect has both psychological and physical responses. During a 2005 study performed by the University of Michigan, 40 men were injected in the jaw with a saline solution meant to cause pain. They were then given a placebo medication that they were told would relieve the pain.

Brain scans were done after the placebo medication was administered, and scientists found that the areas of the brain that release endorphins were active. In addition, the patients reported pain relief. This showed that not only was their relief psychological, but it was actually physical, as well.

In a more recent study, children under the age of four were given placebo medications, as well as traditional medication, to treat coughing. The study found that the placebo worked just as well as the medication. This is an indication that placebo medicines may be a better choice for young children, particularly because this population is more at risk of experiencing side effects from traditional over-the-counter medicine.

Placebos Work Better Than Ever Before

As confidence in doctors and pharmaceuticals rises, placebo efficacy rises, too. People now have more faith in doctors and the drugs that they prescribe. In fact, just seeing a doctor, regardless of any treatment prescribed, can have a therapeutic effect. If a placebo is prescribed, the patient expects to get better, and in many cases they do.

When a child has a pain or illness, parents should take them to the doctor to be sure it isn’t a condition that requires medication, surgery, or other treatment. If no reason for the pain is found, a placebo medication may be just as effective as painkillers. In fact, children and adolescents are more likely than adults to respond to placebos. Not only are placebos effective, they’re also safe — as they are made from inert ingredients, side effects are basically non-existent.

Physicians and parents should keep in mind the benefit of a placebo for children who are experiencing phantom pains. Due to their high efficacy rate and safety, placebos are an excellent way to provide treatment without putting kids at risk.