21 Sep Growing Pains in Children
Has your child woken up in the middle of the night, crying that his/her legs are aching? ‘Growing pains’, you think to yourself, as you recall the aches and pains you also suffered as a child. Unfortunately, most of us have experienced growing pains. An Australian study of four- to six-year-olds found that just over a third of them (36.9%) experienced growing pain. But what exactly is growing pains?
While the term growing pains is used rather indiscriminately, it does refer to a specific pain syndrome in young children and preteens. From the time your child is a pre-schooler to when s/he is a preteen, your child may experience cramping and aching muscles in their lower limbs. Pain is most likely felt in both legs, especially in the front of the thighs, the calves or behind the knees. The recurring pain usually occurs in the late afternoon or evenings. The pain may even cause your child to wake up in the middle of the night.
Despite its name, there is no clinical evidence that growth spurts result in growing pains. In fact, the cause is unclear. They may be a result of muscle fatigue due to intense childhood activities such as running, jumping, and climbing. Another suspected cause is psychological stress. Indeed, children who have growing pains are also more likely to have headaches and abdominal pain.
For many children, a simple massage or stretching the leg muscles will help with the pain. You could try a heat pack on the sore leg or some analgesic such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. (Before giving an over-the-counter medicine, check with your doctor.) It is also thought that Vitamin D may help.
While growing pains are generally benign, there may be other reasons for the pain. You need to differentiate between growing pains and a more serious condition. In the majority of cases of growing pains, the pain is felt in both legs. Being localised in one area may be an indication of a different cause. If the pain grows in severity, persists, or occurs in the morning or while doing activities, you need to get it checked by a doctor. Growing pains affect muscles, not joints. Nor does it cause fever or limping. If leg pain occurs with various other symptoms such as fever, limping or difficulty in walking, swollen joints, rash, tiredness, weakness, loss of appetite, loss of weight or injury, such as a fall, you need to see your doctor.
A doctor can usually diagnose growing pains by examining your child and asking about the symptoms and medical history. A physical examination should include an evaluation of the walk, lower joint motion range and palpation of the lower extremities. If your doctor doesn’t see anything abnormal during the physical exam, further tests are not necessary. If you feel your child’s gait needs adjustment, a visit to your podiatrist may be in order. Sometimes, simple exercises or orthotics can help alleviate the pain.
The good news is, growing pains tend to resolve itself and does not have any lasting consequences. If you have any concerns, always consult a doctor and/or podiatrist.
Reference: Lehman, P.J. & Carl, R.L. (2017). Growing Pains: When to be concerned. Sports Health: A multidisciplinary approach. https://doi.org/10.1177/1941738117692533.