Growth pain in children; what does it mean?

Despite the name ‘growing pains’ there is no evidence that bone and muscle growth causes pain. Growth pain is cramping, achy muscle pain that kids and preteens feel. The pains usually start in early childhood around 3 or 4 and they tend to strike again when the kids are 8-12. It isn’t a disease. In fact, most children go through growth pain. They probably don’t even need any medical help. But it hurts to have growth pain. They are often described as throbbing pain in the legs, in the front of the thighs, the calves or behind the knees. They tend to affect both legs and mostly occur in the evenings and nights. Growth pains may be linked to a low pain threshold or psychological issues. Or they may simply be muscle aches due to regular childhood activities like running, jumping and climbing.

What is causing this to my child?
Bone or muscle growth hasn’t been proved to cause pain and they don’t usually happen where growth is occurring or during times of fast growth. So ‘growing’ pains might just be aches and discomfort from being physically active. These pains can happen after your child had a particularly athletic day.

How do I know if it’s just growth pain or something else?

Growth pain always occurs in the muscles and not the joints. Most kids report pain in front of their thighs, their calves or behind their knees. Joints affected by serious diseases are swollen, red, tender or warm. But this is not the case in growing pains. Growth pain usually strikes in the evenings, but it can also wake a sleeping child sometimes. The intensity of the pain varies and most kids don’t face it every day.

One symptom that you might find really useful in knowing is how your child responds to touch while in pain. Children who have pain from something more serious don’t like to be handled as touch can worsen the pain. But when a child is having growth pain, he/she feels better when held, massaged or cuddled.

How do I help my child?

While growth pain isn’t related to any illness, it can upset your children. The aches are generally gone by the morning and it is usual for a parent to think that the child was faking the pain to get some attention. But this probably isn’t true. So offer reassuring support to your children when they are going through growth pain and tell them it will pass as they grow up. Here are some things you can do to comfort your child and relax the pain.

Rub your child’s legs: Children often respond positively to gentle massages.

Use a heating pad: It can help soothe sore muscles. Use a heating pad on a low setting before bedtime or when your child complains of leg pain.

Stretching exercises:  Stretching the muscles in the legs during the day may help prevent pain at night.

Try a pain reliever: Offer your child ibuprofen or acetaminophen. But avoid aspirin because it may cause Reye’s syndrome.

How do I know if I have to seek medical attention?

Growing pains themselves are harmless, but the pain may also be a sign of another condition. Call your doctor if any of these symptoms happen with your child’s pain.

  • long-lasting pain, pain in the morning, or swelling or redness in one particular area or joint
  • pain associated with an injury
  • fever
  • limping
  • unusual rashes
  • loss of appetite
  • weakness
  • tiredness
  • unusual behavior

These symptoms are not related to growth pain and should be checked out by a doctor.

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