Are Growing Pains a Real Thing?

Reviewed on 6/16/2021
growing pains
Learn about growing pain symptoms in children and how you can ease your kid’s discomfort

Growing pains are common in preschool and school-age children and slightly more common in girls than in boys. Though they’re called growing pains, there is no evidence that growth causes pain, even though the pain felt is real. Growing pains may instead be associated with lower pain threshold or psychological issues. 

There is no specific treatment for growing pains. You can comfort your child by putting a warm heating pad on sore muscles and massaging them.

What causes growing pains?

The exact cause of growing pains is unclear, and there is no evidence that a child's growth causes pain. 

Growing pains don't usually occur in the body part that is growing or during times of rapid growth. Some studies have suggested that growing pains may be linked to restless legs syndrome

Running, jumping, and climbing during the day may cause a child to feel pain at night due to the strain on their muscles, and this muscle pain is thought to be the most likely cause of growing pains.

What are signs and symptoms of growing pains?

Growing pains are often described as an aching or throbbing feeling in the legs, usually in the front of the thighs or behind the knees and calves. They usually occur in both legs and may occur once a week or more frequently. 

Sometimes the pain can wake a child from sleep. Some children may also experience abdominal pain or headaches during episodes of growing pains. 

Growing pains are usually not continuous or regular and instead occur off and on. 

When to see a doctor about growing pains

If your child’s pain has the following characteristics, you should consult your doctor because it could indicate a more serious condition.  

  • Persistent pain
  • Pain in the morning when the child wakes up
  • Severe enough to interfere with the child's activities and mood
  • Pain in the joints
  • Associated with injury
  • Presence of other signs or symptoms, such as swelling, redness, tenderness, fever, difficulty walking, rash, loss of appetite, weakness, or fatigue

How are growing pains treated?

Growing pains don’t cause any complications or affect growth usually resolve on their own in a year or two. Over-the-counter painkillers, lifestyle modifications, and home remedies can help reduce pain and discomfort.

Home remedies

  • Massaging the child's legs: A gentle massage with soothing warm oil (coconut, olive, or almond oil) can help reduce the child’s pain. Children often respond well to gentle massages.
  • Heat: Heating pads on a low setting, warm towels, and a warm bath can help soothe sore muscles and reduce discomfort.
  • Stretching exercises: Stretching can help strengthen the muscles and prevent pain.
  • Avoiding excessive physical activity: Physical activity is important for children but excessive physical activity can cause a strain on the child’s muscles and bones.
  • Adequate rest: Children should get enough sleep and rest to recover from physical activities during the day.

Medication

If home remedies aren’t enough to relieve your child’s pain, pediatric doses of ibuprofen or acetaminophen may be given. Consult your pediatrician regarding the recommended dosage. 

Blood tests

Blood tests to check your child’s vitamin D levels may be done to see if your child’s pain is due to poor nutrition or problems in the muscles and bones.

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References
Hospital for Special Surgery. What Are “Growing Pains”? https://www.hss.edu/pediatrics-what-are-growing-pains.asp

West Tennessee Medical Group. What Exactly Are Growing Pains? January 04, 2021. https://www.wth.org/blog/what-exactly-are-growing-pains/

Ringold S. Growing Pains. UpToDate. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/growing-pains

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