Posted: Dec 02, 2012 8:04 PM
Growing pains are a fairly common cause of recurrent leg pain in preschool and school age children. They can cause significant nighttime pain, but must be distinguished from other potentially serious medical conditions. The best treatment for growing pains is massage, heat, stretching, and a lot of TLC.

Many parents often wonder, are growing pains real? Or is this diagnosis just something us doctors say when we can’t identify the source of a child’s pain? Yes, growing pains are real; and yes, we do consider this a diagnosis of exclusion. Meaning, we must be sure your child’s leg pain is not due to another medical cause such as an infection, tumor or rheumatic disease.

How common is it?

Growing pains are fairly common in children ages two to 12, with recent studies estimating about 20% will experience them.

They peak in three to five year olds and then again between ages eight and 12. There also appears to be a genetic component, often running in families.

What do growing pains feel like?

Children with growing pains report a throbbing, deep ache in the muscles of the thighs and back of the lower legs (calves). These pains typically occur in both legs, start in the late evening and may even wake the child in the night. However, they are usually gone by the morning and they don’t interfere with a child’s daily activity.

Red flags

Limping, fevers, rashes, joint pain or pain in one leg are not associated with growing pains. These symptoms must be checked by your child’s doctor.

What causes growing pains?

While they occur during the growing years, they don’t appear to be directly related to growing. The exact etiology is still largely unknown. They are much more common after a long day of running, jumping and climbing. So children prone to growing pains will report leg pain in the evening after a particularly active day.

They have also been associated with conditions such as restless leg syndrome and can be associated with other recurring pains, such as headaches and abdominal pain.

How can I help my child?

Massage and heating pads work wonders. This is in direct contrast to other conditions in which touching the effected area will hurt. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen may be helpful for particularly painful nights.

Gentle stretching of the legs on a daily basis has also been shown to greatly reduce the frequency and severity of growing pains.

Dr. Mom's bottom Line^ Growing up can really hurt. So while growing pains are often nothing to worry about, they do cause children significant pain. Massage, stretch those legs, comfort and reassure your child that these pains won’t last forever.

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