Growing Pains

How to man­age your child’s limb pain

Often times when our chil­dren com­plain of minor mus­cle pain in their thigh or calf, we respond with, It must be grow­ing pains”. Occa­sion­al dis­com­fort as your child is grow­ing and devel­op­ing, espe­cial­ly from the ages of 2 to 12, is very com­mon. Grow­ing pains are noth­ing to wor­ry about and will come and go through­out child­hood, but have you ever won­dered what it means or why it hap­pens? Pedi­a­tri­cian, Dr. Mali­ni Kumar, explains what is actu­al­ly hap­pen­ing to a child’s body and how you can help.

What are grow­ing pains?
The term grow­ing pains” refers to feel­ings of pain or throb­bing in your child’s shins, thighs, calves or the area behind their knees.

The dis­com­fort con­cen­trates in the mus­cles, affects one or both legs and often occurs late in the day or through the night, usu­al­ly dis­ap­pear­ing by the morn­ing. Depend­ing on the day, the pain will come and go, may feel mild to severe and can last any­where from a few min­utes to a few hours. Each child will expe­ri­ence grow­ing pains dif­fer­ent­ly and, while com­mon, not every child will expe­ri­ence them.

It is impor­tant to note that grow­ing pains should not inter­fere with your child’s abil­i­ty to play sports or be active. If pain is inter­fer­ing with your child’s activ­i­ty, it may be the result of a more seri­ous con­di­tion or injury.

Grow­ing Pains: A result of phys­i­cal growth?
Despite the name, there is no evi­dence that bone growth is painful. In fact, grow­ing pains often do not occur dur­ing times of rapid growth. It is more like­ly that the aches your child feels are the result of days spent jump­ing, run­ning and climb­ing. While typ­i­cal­ly attrib­uted to active days, grow­ing pains may also be the result of a low­ered pain thresh­old, weak bones or, in some cas­es, psy­cho­log­i­cal issues.

What is a growth spurt?
From infan­cy to ado­les­cence, chil­dren typ­i­cal­ly expe­ri­ence peri­ods of rapid growth in height and weight, fol­lowed by a peri­od of slow­er growth. Your child’s growth pat­tern will be mon­i­tored by your pedi­a­tri­cian, as it pro­vides valu­able insights to their over­all health. All chil­dren grow at dif­fer­ent rates, and sev­er­al fac­tors includ­ing genet­ics, hor­mones and nutri­tion play a role in your child’s growth.

What is a growth delay?
A growth delay is a con­di­tion in which a child is con­sid­ered small for their age, despite a nor­mal growth rate. Bones mature more slow­ly in chil­dren who expe­ri­ence growth delays. 

Can my pedi­a­tri­cian diag­nose grow­ing pains?
If you are unsure whether the pain your child is expe­ri­enc­ing is grow­ing pains, your pedi­a­tri­cian can help rule out oth­er pos­si­ble cul­prits in order to make a diag­no­sis. They may con­duct a phys­i­cal exam­i­na­tion of your child and ask a series of ques­tions about their symp­toms and med­ical history.

One way that your physi­cian may rule out seri­ous injury is by eval­u­at­ing your child’s reac­tion to touch while in pain. Chil­dren expe­ri­enc­ing grow­ing pains will feel bet­ter when their limbs are held and mas­saged, while touch and move­ment for those with more seri­ous injuries will make the pain worse.

Signs of more seri­ous injury may include: 

  • Long-last­ing pain, pain in the morn­ing or swelling or red­ness in one par­tic­u­lar area or joint
  • Pain asso­ci­at­ed with injury
  • Fever, loss of appetite, weak­ness or fatigue and/​or unusu­al behavior
  • Limp­ing
  • Unusu­al rashes

If the cause of your child’s limb pain is indeed grow­ing pains, your physi­cian should not find any abnor­mal­i­ties dur­ing the phys­i­cal exam and X‑rays and/​or blood work will not be needed.

How can I help my child when they are in pain?
While there is lit­tle that can be done to avoid grow­ing pains, there are ways to help relieve your child’s pain.

Some help­ful tips include:

  • Mas­sag­ing the painful area
  • Stretch­ing the mus­cles where the pain is felt
  • Plac­ing a warm cloth or heat­ing pad on the area in pain

Your pedi­a­tri­cian may rec­om­mend giv­ing your child aceta­minophen, such as Tylenol, or a non­s­teroidal anti-inflam­ma­to­ry (NSAID), such as Advil, after your child has had an active day or when they are expe­ri­enc­ing aches to help ease the pain.

Aches and pains are a part of grow­ing up and are no cause for wor­ry. To learn more about grow­ing pains, or to sched­ule an appoint­ment with one of our pedi­a­tri­cians, please vis­it with our Pediatricians.

Health Topics: