Facts About Growing Pains In Children

Aches and pains in the legs are a common complaint heard by parents of elementary school-age children. Whether it’s an 8-year-old with throbbing legs or a 6-year-old with painful calves, the phenomenon known as “growing pains” is a typical part of growing up. Often the leg pains have no obvious cause, yet can be so uncomfortable that it interrupts sleep and triggers a crying spell. For worried parents it can be difficult to determine if the pain is something serious or just another uncomfortable element of childhood. “Growing pains” typically occur at night and disappear by the teen years. It’s not a disease and unfortunately there is no real evidence that growing up causes muscles to ache; for many physicians, the root cause of the discomfort is unknown. It’s likely that the daily activities of childhood – running, climbing, jumping, for example – put stress on a child’s musculoskeletal system, and that stress manifests itself at night when the muscles are resting following overuse. Growing pains seem to be more prevalent in girls than boys, although either can experience their wrath.

Although there is no specific known cause for growing pains, most any school-age child can tell you that growing pains are real, which means parents should take them seriously. Sometimes the condition you may write off as growing pains can signal an underlying condition. Most of the time, however, the pain can be treated at home with simple comforting measures. Parents can ease discomfort by massaging the legs gently. Also, teach your child how to stretch their legs throughout the day, particularly before bedtime. If needed, try a pain reliever like Advil, Motrin or Tylenol. Avoid aspirin if possible. Aspirin has been known to cause a rare disease in children and although it’s unlikely this will happen to your child, you might as well avoid the risk by choosing among the myriad of other pain-relieving options on the market. Heating pads or warm baths can also ease sore muscles. Put the heating pad on a low setting and lay it on your child’s legs at bedtime. Remove them after your child falls asleep.

Although these are simple at-home remedies, there may come a time when it’s a good idea to visit your family physician. Call your child’s doctor if the leg pain is severe enough to interfere with your child’s daily life; is associated with an injury or other apparent cause; persists rather than wanes; is located in the joints; or is accompanied with other symptoms, such as tenderness, fever, limping, weakness, fatigue, loss of appetite or swelling. Pay close attention to your child’s pain and document if necessary so you can answer your physician’s questions. Things you’ll need to be able to tell the doctor:

  • Time of day the pain typically occurs
  • Location of the pain
  • Remedies that seem to relieve the discomfort and
  • Any other signs or symptoms that could be related

Your child will likely be asked to describe the pain and its severity. After gathering all the relevant information, your child will likely undergo a physical exam to determine if there could be other causes for the pain, such as restless leg syndrome.

Growing pains are common, yet uncomfortable. Sometimes the best pain relief for a child is loving support from parents. In rare cases, a doctor’s invention will be necessary, but typically growing pains wane on their own. Take complaints seriously and try home remedies to make it more bearable for everyone.

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