Growing Pains

Growing pains is a term used to describe joint and extremity pain that some children feel. There is no clear-cut explanation for why these pains occur. The pain does not mean there will be problems in the future. The pain will usually go away on its own. Growing pains seem to mostly affect children between the ages of:

  • 3 and 5.

  • 8 and 12.

CAUSES

Pain may occur due to:

  • Overuse.

  • Developing joints.

Growing pains are not caused by arthritis or any other permanent condition.

SYMPTOMS

  • Symptoms include pain that:

  • Affects the extremities or joints, most often in the legs and sometimes behind the knees. Children may describe the pain as occurring deep in the legs.

  • Occurs in both extremities.

  • Lasts for several hours, then goes away, usually on its own. However, pain may occur days, weeks, or months later.

  • Occurs in late afternoon or at night. The pain will often awaken the child from sleep.

  • When upper extremity pain occurs, there is almost always lower extremity pain also.

  • Some children also experience recurrent abdominal pain or headaches.

  • There is often a history of other siblings or family members having growing pains.

DIAGNOSIS

There are no diagnostic tests that can reveal the presence or the cause of growing pains. For example, children with true growing pains do not have any changes visible on X-ray. They also have completely normal blood test results. Your caregiver may also ask you about other stressors or if there is some event your child may wish to avoid.

Your caregiver will consider your child's medical history and physical exam. Your caregiver may have other tests done. Specific symptoms that may cause your doctor to do other testing include:

  • Fever, weight loss, or significant changes in your child's daily activity.

  • Limping or other limitations.

  • Daytime pain.

  • Upper extremity pain without accompanying pain in lower extremities.

  • Pain in one limb or pain that continues to worsen.

TREATMENT

Treatment for growing pains is aimed at relieving the discomfort. There is no need to restrict activities due to growing pains. Most children have symptom relief with over-the-counter medicine. Only take over-the-counter or prescription medicines for pain, discomfort, or fever as directed by your caregiver. Rubbing or massaging the legs can also help ease the discomfort in some children. You can use a heating pad to relieve pain. Make sure the pad is not too hot. Place heating pad on your own skin before placing it on your child's. Do not leave it on for more than 15 minutes at a time.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • More severe pain or longer-lasting pain develops.

  • Pain develops in the morning.

  • Swelling, redness, or any visible deformity in any joint or joints develops.

  • Your child has an oral temperature above 102° F (38.9° C), not controlled by medicine.

  • Unusual tiredness or weakness develops.

  • Uncharacteristic behavior develops.