What are they?
Known formally as “benign idiopathic nocturnal limb pains of childhood”, growing pains are a real but non-serious muscular pain that can affect children until they reach adolescence. The peak “growing pain” years span ages 3 – 5 and 8 – 11. It is estimated that growing pains affect approximately 20% of children, with boys and girls equally affected.
The pain generally affects children in the evening and will sometimes wake them from sleep. Rather ironically, there is no evidence that growing pains are caused by growing!
What are the symptoms?
Growing pains often strike in the early evening or during the night and can last from a few minutes to several hours. The pain is typically in the legs (occasionally in the arms) and usually affects both limbs. Whether it is legs or arms, the pain is concentrated in the muscles rather than the joints; the calf, shin and thigh muscles are common sites of the pain.
Growing pains are not associated with a temperature, swelling, redness or tenderness – if any of these symptoms are present you should consult your doctor.
What are the causes?
Medical professionals are unsure of what causes growing pains. It was thought in the past that growing pains were caused by the growth of bones, however bones grow slowly and this slow growth does not cause pain.
Some possible reasons for growing pains are:
Muscular tiredness – Growing pains seem to be more common in active children, and children with hypermobile joints. There is also a link between aching muscles and children doing more physical activity than usual, so activity may play a factor.
Poor posture – Children who have flat feet or whose feet roll in may be more susceptible to growing pains than other children. Poor posture puts greater strain on the supporting muscles of the body and can cause pain by the end of the day.
Stress – Stress or unhappiness can cause muscles to be tense and may trigger aches and pains. This is not common in many children with growing pains, however.
Doctors do know that the pains are not linked to dietary deficiency or growth problems.
What are the treatments?
Growing pains, while distressing for your child, are non-serious and the focus is on easing the pain when they occur. Some treatments which may help your child include:
- Massaging the painful area.
- Heat treatments, such as a warm bath or a heat pack.
- Plenty of cuddles.
- Pain relief, such as paracetamol
If pain is still present in the morning, and if the pain is associated with any swelling, redness, tenderness to the touch or fever you should consult your child’s doctor, to rule out any other conditions.