Growing Pains

Adapted content from UpToDate

Growing pains sometimes seem to occur right out of nowhere. The child complains of pain in the legs or arms. The family is usually unable to determine why the child may be having pain such as a sports accident or fall. Many families feel frustrated when growing pains occur because they’re often told there’s not much we can do to help their child feel better.

What are growing pains?

Growing pains are pain in the lower legs or arms. They usually affect children from 2-12 years old. About 10-20% of children in this age group will experience growing pains at some point. Girls are more likely to have them than boys. Oddly enough, growing pains aren’t actually caused by growing. The pain a child feels is not at the site of growth.  Growth is not affected by the pain, either. We aren’t really sure what causes growing pains; we just know that they’re not harmful to the child.

What happens with growing pains?

Growing pains are pains in the lower extremities, and sometimes the arms, which come and go. The pain can be severe enough that it awakens the child from sleep at night or during nap time, or the child complains in the evening time. Pain affects both legs and/or both arms. Different children experience different levels of pain. Legs are affected much more often than arms. The child is usually pain-free between episodes. About 1/3 of children who have growing pains will also complain of headaches or abdominal pain.

How can I help my child’s pain?

If rest is helpful, your child can rest but it’s not necessary. They can maintain their usual level of activity. The most helpful measures for this type of pain are:

  • Massage
  • Heat (like a warm bath or shower, or warm, moist compresses)
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin)

When should I worry?

If any of the following happen during what we suspect is growing pains, please let our office know so that we can do an evaluation:

  • Severe pain, not relieved by above measures
  • Swelling that doesn’t resolve or gets worse
  • Fever
  • Lumps in the muscles
  • Limp muscles
  • Warmth or redness on the skin overlying the painful area
  • Dark urine

Otherwise, the pain will probably come and go for a year or two, and this is completely normal.