What Do Growing Pains Mean?

Does your child complain of throbbing pain in the lower legs in the middle of the night? Chances are your child is probably having growing pains, which about 25% to 40% of children experience during their growing years.

What Age Do You Get Growing Pains?

Growing pains are characterized by aches and pains in the lower legs often striking during early childhood between 3 and 5 years of age and, later, 8 to 12 years of age.

They are diagnosed after more serious conditions have been ruled out. Growing pains are not associated with limping or limited mobility, signs of local trauma or infection and do not involve the joints. The pain can be severe enough to wake up your child but are usually gone by morning.

What Causes Growing Pains?

The cause of growing pains is still unknown. Studies have proven that bone growth does not cause growing pains. A subsequent finding revealed that children with growing pains were more likely than others to have a parent with a history of restless leg syndrome, a condition characterized by the uncontrollable urge to move your legs.

The most likely cause of this condition is muscle pain in the lower extremities, such as legs, from overuse during the day.

What Do Growing Pains Feel Like?

Most children report pain that usually feels like an aching or throbbing on both sides of the body, mainly in the legs that comes and goes. Growing pains usually occur in the late afternoon or evening and may be accompanied by headaches or abdominal pain.

How Do I Make Growing Pains Go Away?

Although there's no specific treatment for growing pains, there are some things you can do to help ease your child's symptoms:
  • Gently massage and stretch your child's legs.
  • Put a covered hot water bottle (or heat pack) on the painful area.
  • Give ibuprofen or other pain reliever to ease discomfort. However, do not give aspirin to a child under the age of 16 or has an acute viral illness without a doctor's prescription.
  • Encourage them to wear supportive shoes, such as trainers, during the day.
  • Give them a warm bath before bedtime.

When to Seek Immediate Help

Growing pains are benign and will go away on their own. However, certain underlying conditions may mimic some of the symptoms of a more serious condition. Be sure to consult a doctor if your child shows any of the following signs and symptoms:
  • Chronic pain, swelling, unusual bruising or redness in one particular area or joint
  • Pain that is only on one side of the body
  • Long-lasting pain that carries on the next morning
  • Pain that is felt in a joint, such as their knees or ankles
  • Pain associated with an injury
  • Limping
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unusual behavior
While growing pains are part of growing up, it is important to pay close attention to similar symptoms that may point to other more serious conditions, such as juvenile idiopathic arthritis, fibromyalgia syndrome or osteosarcoma. Go to the nearest emergency room or dial 911 if the pain interferes with your child's daily activities. We are here for you. Please do not delay care.

National Institutes of Health
National Health Service UK

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