Growing Pains – They are for Real

Have you ever wondered if growing pains actually exist?  Growing pains is an actual diagnosis that occurs in almost half of kids.  However, not all leg pain in kids is growing pains, and it is important to understand when to talk to your pediatrician if your child experiences lower extremity pain.

Growing pains almost never occur in the arms, and are most commonly felt in the lower legs (in the shin area), but can also be felt in the thigh area.  They are nearly always on both sides.  The pain experienced with growing pains typically occurs at night after a long day of playing or activity.  Pain can vary from mild to severe.  It is sometimes difficult for kids to localize the pain, but growing pains are not felt in joints.  Growing pains typically occur between the ages of 3-7.  

The cause is unknown, and the name “growing pains” is actually a misnomer.  These pains are not associated with rapid growth, and theories of whey they occur include vascular perfusion problems, tiredness, or psychological problems.

Treatment for growing pains includes massage, heat, or medicine (Tylenol or anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen).  Further treatment like physical therapy or bracing is not needed. Experiencing growing pains as a child will not predispose your child to future joint pain or problems. 

The important thing is to not assume that any leg pain that your child experiences is “just growing pains.”  Definite “red flags” that your child’s pain is outside of the realm of growing pains includes morning pain, joint swelling/stiffness, back pain, limping, unusual tiredness, or pain that occurs every night or pain that is worsening and/or severe.  These symptoms can be indicative of more severe problems like arthritis or other joint problems.  Talk to your pediatrician if your child exhibits any symptoms not typically associated with growing pains.

Rachel Brewer, MD

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