What are Growing Pains?
Are achy legs keeping your child awake at night? They may have growing pains.
Growing pains are common aches in children aged 3 to 12. The pain usually starts in the late afternoon or evening and is gone by morning. It may wake your child up at night.
What do growing pains feel like?
Usually, growing pains are felt in both legs, especially in the front of the thighs, back of the legs, or behind the knees. They might feel like cramps or an aching pain.
Causes of Growing Pains
Despite the name “growing pains,” there is no evidence that they are linked to growth spurts. Doctors used to think bone growth could cause pain, but we now know that's not true.
Instead, growing pains may simply be muscle aches that kids get after an active day of running, jumping, and climbing. For some kids, the pain seems more common after an especially active day. But that's not true for all kids.
Doctors have other theories about why some kids get these pains:
- Some might be extra sensitive to pain. They also get more headaches and tummy aches than other kids.
- Kids with growing pains are more likely to have extra-flexible joints and flat feet. Those differences might contribute to leg pain.
- Some research has found low levels of vitamin D in children with growing pains. Vitamin D is important for muscles and bones, so it might play a role.
- Some children thought to have growing pains might really have restless legs syndrome. That's a disorder in which uncomfortable feelings in the legs make it hard to fall asleep. It runs in families, so having a parent with restless legs might be a clue.
Symptoms of Growing Pains
Different children feel growing pains differently. Some kids have a lot of pain, while others do not. The pain may last just a few minutes or go on for hours.
The pains can come and go for months or years. Most kids won't have them every day and will outgrow them within a few years.
The pain usually strikes in the late afternoon, evening, and bedtime. It can hurt enough to wake some children.
If your child seems perfectly fine in the morning, don't be quick to think they were faking. Growing pains disappear in the morning.
Other signs that your child's pains are growing pains:
- The pain does not cause a limp.
- The child can play normally during the day.
- Moving the legs doesn't make the pain better or worse.
- Their arms might or might not hurt sometimes.
How Are Growing Pains Diagnosed?
A doctor can usually diagnose growing pains by examining your child and asking questions about their medical history and symptoms. It is important to rule out any other possible causes of the pain. This is why you should see the doctor if you think your child has any unexplained leg or arm pain.
Growing Pains Treatment
Growing pains will eventually go away on their own, without causing any harm to your child. But, in the meantime, there are ways to help them feel better.
For example, some children will have fewer pains if they take breaks during physical activities and try a variety of sports and activities, instead of sticking to one.
But if the pains are interfering with your child's sleep, causing daytime tiredness, or making them avoid activity, there are more things you can try.
How to relieve growing pains in the legs:
- Try gently massaging or rubbing the painful areas.
- Encourage your child to stretch their leg muscles during the day. Ask your doctor to suggest some exercises.
- Put a warm cloth or heating pad on a low setting on the sore leg. Or try a warm bath before bed. Do not leave a heating pad with a sleeping child
- If the pain does not get better, ask your health care provider if it's OK to give your child an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Ask about the appropriate dose. Never give aspirin to a child. Aspirin use in children has been linked to a life-threatening disease called Reye's syndrome.
When Should I Call the Doctor?
It's important to remember that growing pains are almost always felt in both legs. Pain in one leg may be a sign of a more serious condition. Call your health care provider if this happens.
It's also important to remember that growing pains affect muscles, not joints. And they don't cause limping or fever.
If your child has leg pain with symptoms not linked to growing pains, they might need a physical exam and some tests. Call your child's doctor or nurse if pain in one or both legs happens with:
- Injury, such as a fall
- Loss of appetite
- Limping or trouble walking
- Red, warm, painful, swollen joints
- Weight loss
Growing pains are a common problem for children but have nothing to do with growth spurts. They don't leave any lasting harm. They can hurt enough to interfere with sleep, but there are things you can do to make your child feel better.
Growing Pains FAQs
At what age do growing pains start?
Growing pains usually start between ages 3 and 12.
How do you know it's growing pains?
The biggest clues are that the pain usually is in both legs and happens in the afternoon, evening, or bedtime, but it is gone in the morning.
How long do growing pains usually last?
It differs. Some kids have pains on and off for years, but they usually fade out by teen years.
Can you get growing pains in your arms?
Yes, but it's less common than leg pain and doesn't happen in the arms alone.
Do growing pains make you taller?
No. There's no evidence that growing pains are caused by growth spurts or affect growth in any way. They don't even occur during the greatest growth spurts, such as teen years.