This is a blog that I have had half-written for ages. A good friend and colleague of mine who is a paediatric physiotherapist (that’s you Kerry!) asked me to write about it aaaages ago and I started, then got distracted and didn’t finish it! Sorry Kerry – here t’is!!
Growing pains are a phenomenon that we see in young children, usually between the ages of between 3-11 years (although some children continue to have these pains through their teenage years as well). I distinctly remember having these frequently as a child in primary school in the evening in my calf muscles on both sides. Mum used to rub my legs with an old fashioned remedy like Tiger Balm to ease the pain. She used to tell me that it was because I had been dancing too much (which was probably true).
They are common, occurring in anywhere up to around 1 in every 3 children. There tends to be a question around if they are “real” or not, and this is an interesting question. Growing pains are very real to the child (that is, they are actually very painful!), but to diagnose them as such other medical causes like infection or injury have to be ruled out – meaning medical investigations undertaken to determine the cause of the pain are normal.
The achy pains are muscular (not in the knees or ankles) and are not worsened by movement or exercise, although they seem to be more commonly reported by kids on days when they are more active than usual (but not always). They tend to occur on both sides at once (pain in only one side might indicate another cause and so should be seen and evaluated by a doctor), and most commonly are reported in,
- the big, front thigh muscles (quadriceps)
- In the belly of the calf muscles
- Behind the knee
Growing pains mostly occur in the late afternoon and evening, and can sometimes be so bad that the child may wake with the pain through the night (but is gone by morning). They tend to come and go intermittently over weeks to years – but usually stop in mid adolescence (that is when the child stops growing).
Causes of growing pains
No one really knows what causes growing pains but it is thought they could be due to:
- muscular tiredness
- Abnormalities of gait (walking)
- Stress or unhappiness
- Severe and/or persistent pain
- Pain in only one side (unilateral)
- Pain that occurs through the day
- Joint or bone pain
- Loss of appetite or weight
- Pain that is associated with other symptoms like fever, swelling, redness, rash, limping
What can you do about it?
There is little worse for a parent than seeing your child in pain and feeling that there is nothing you can do about it. Growing pains can be quite distressing for children but fortunately they do often respond to simple measures like these listed below:
- Have your doctor rule out medical causes (eg infection, injury)
- Heat application – a heat wheat pack or a warm bath
- Muscle stretches before bedtime can help
- Simple pain medications like Panadol or Nurofen
- Have a podiatrist or physiotherapist check your child’s posture, feet and legs (to see if the roll in/out etc)
- Reassurance and comfort for your child
I hope that this article has cleared up any confusion about what growing pains are and given you some ideas about how to help your child if they have them.