If your child has ever woke up during the night screaming with pain but you have no idea why, it may just be growing pains.
Growing pains mostly affect preschool and school-aged kids, usually beginning in early childhood around the age of 3 – 5. They also seem to strike again among tweens aged 8 to 12.
What are growing pains?
The Australian Paediatric Rheumatology Group describes ‘Growing pains’ as a name used to explain pain in one or both legs, which occurs in young children often experienced later in the evenings. The pain can sometimes wake your child from sleep.
The pain that your child can experience with growing pains will more than likely be in the front of their thighs, in their calves or behind their knees.
Growing pains do not affect how a child walks and runs and they do not make a child unwell. If your child is limping, is complaining of pain during the day, is unwell or if the leg is sore to touch, you need to get your child checked by a doctor. They may have an infection or an injury.Better Health
Not growth related at all
There is no real evidence that growing pains are due to a growth spurt.
Although an exact cause of growing pains is unclear, one paediatrician noted that with some children, they tend to happen after a particularly vigorous day of physical activity, like running, jumping, and climbing, which may be harder on a child’s musculoskeletal system.
The most accepted theory of “growing pains” is that the pain originates from the muscles in the legs.
Better Health Victoria explains that, “the cause of growing pains is unclear. It is often mistakenly thought that the pain is caused by the growth of bones. Yet bones grow slowly, even during growth spurts, and this slow growth does not cause pain.”
Symptoms of growing pains
Better Health Victoria have shared some symptoms that may be a sign of growing pains:
- Muscular aches and pains – typically in the calf, behind the knee and in the front of the thigh.
- Moving the legs does not make the pain better or worse.
- The pain comes and goes, occurring perhaps every night for a week or so, or a few times a week, or only occasionally.
- The onset of pain is around the late afternoon or evening.
- The pain is worse during the night.
- The pain may be severe enough to wake the child from sleep.
- The pain is gone by morning.
- The pain doesn’t cause a limp or make it hard to run and play normally.
- Occasionally, the muscles of the arms may be affected as well.
- The child may also complain of headaches.
How to help ease growing pains
One of my kids suffered with knee pain while the other one seemed to suffer more in the ankle/lower leg region. It was horrible! Lots of restless nights and tears that’s for sure.
Here are some ideas to help ease their discomfort and distress:
Hug – Sometimes all it takes is a gentle hug and a rub on the back until they fall back to sleep.
Massage – Rubbing or stretching the legs can sometimes help ease the discomfort. I often found rubbing them with baby vicks, Eukybear rub or something similar helped soothe some of the pain.
Heat – Placing a warm cloth or heating pad on the sore leg can be soothing.
Ice – Meanwhile some people find that a cool cloth or icepack actually helps ease the pain.
Pain killers – if the pain persist and is really bothering your child consider offering them some paracetomol or nurofen.
Epsom Salt/Magnesium Flake Baths – a nice soak in a warm bath with epsom salts can help soothe aching muscles, bones and joints.
Drink more water – Ensure they are drinking enough fluids throughout the day.
Stretching exercises before bed may also be helpful. I find this also helps with restless legs too.
When to seek help
If you notice that the joints are swollen or red, hot to touch, or your child has a fever then it is time to visit a doctor or physical therapist to help you figure out the real problem.
Queensland Health also advises that you should always take your child to the doctor if they have severe pain, pain in only one limb, pain during the day (growing pains occur in the late afternoon and evening), or other symptoms such as fever, rashes, loss of appetite, swelling or redness in the affected area or limping.
If you become concerned about any symptoms, please seek immediate medical attention. We have some hotlines and suggested websites for further information and advice.
SAHM takes no responsibility for any illness, injury or death caused by misuse of this information. All information provided is correct at time of publication.