Growing pains -- or something serious?
Your child wakes up crying in the night complaining that his legs are in pain. You take a look, and his legs do not seem to be red, warm to the touch or swollen. Then, you try your best by rubbing and massaging the painful area. You decide to give him some pain medication or take him to the doctor in the morning.
However, the next day your son wakes up with no pain and no memory of what happened the night before. Instead, he jumps right out of bed and starts getting ready for school.
Most likely your child experienced what is called growing pains.
Growing pains mostly occur at night and in children between 4 to 12 years of age. Growing pains are normal and are seen in up to 40% of children.
The pain is mostly a deep aching, cramping pain in the thighs that occurs usually in the evenings or during the night; but never present in the morning. The intensity of the pain varies from child to child.
Most kids report pains in the front of their thighs, in the calves, or behind the knees. Different from early arthritis symptoms, with growing pains, the joints are not swollen, red, tender or warm. The joints of kids experiencing growing pains look normal.
It is important to recognize how your child responds to pain. When a child has growing pains, he/she likes to be touched, held and massaged. However, children with serious bone-, muscle- or joint-related diseases do not like to be touched or moved. In some children with a high threshold for pain, this may not be that easy to distinguish.
Frequency of the pain varies between daily to once every few months, and pain might be significant after a busy day in which the children have been very active with jumping, climbing and running during the day.
It is still unknown why the growth of bones causes pain, since pain may not coincide with the accelerated bone growth all the time.
WHEN IS PAIN A PROBLEM?
You should seek a specialist’s advice when:
- The pain is persistent in the morning and your child is limping
- There is swelling or redness in the painful area or joint
- There is history or concerns about injury or trauma
- There are other systemic complaints such as fever, skin rash, decreased appetite, weight loss, fever, fatigue, change in mood.
Doctors will obtain a thorough history and physical examination, obtain X-rays, and if necessary, order an MRI or blood work for soft tissue-related problems. Once the possibility of a serious disease is eliminated, the doctor would most likely diagnose the situation as a case of growing pains. Your doctors will reassure that growing pains will pass as your child grows up.
Treating Growing Pains:
- Most of the time, massaging the area, moving the joints in the range of motion, stretching, and warm heating pads for relaxation of the muscles and tendons are helpful.
- If the pain is still high in intensity and is persistent, you can give your child daily non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen either before bed time or when he experiences growing pains again.
Growing pains can be very frustrating to the children and the parents. Occasionally parents think that the child fakes the pain to get attention, but most of the time this is not true.