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Are growing pains real?

Teal background with a line artwork of a growing leaf. Title of the post is "Are growing pains real?" On the top right shows a picture of a woman measuring the height of a child. Bottom right picture is a child pointing to a woman the part of her lower leg in pain. In the post you will learn what are growing pains, what causes growing pains and what is the treatment for growing pains.

What are growing pains?

Growing pains are recurrent, self-limited extremity pains for which the parents, child, and health care provider have no explanation.

It typically describes limb pain in children, with below listed features:

· usually begin between ages 3 to 12 years

· most commonly bilateral lower legs

· aching or throbbing feeling, often occurs in the front of the thighs, the calves or behind the knees

· duration can be minutes to hours

· primarily late in the day or at night, and disappear in the morning

· pain can be mild or severe, and awaken a child in the middle of the night

· intermittent pains, with pain-free intervals from days to months; some can be daily

The children are otherwise well without features of other muscle/skeletal issues.


What causes growing pains?

The causes of growing pains are not known. Although the pains occur in growing children, they do not coincide with periods of rapid growth, do not occur at the sites of growth, and do not affect the growth of children.

There were some proposed theories, such as family history, lower pain threshold, foot posture, hypermobility, reduced bone strength & local overuse etc. However, no conclusion could be made due to heterogeneity in available studies.


Are growing pains common?

Growing pains are the most common cause of episodic muscle/skeletal pain in children.


What are the risk factors?

Growing pains are slightly more common in girls than in boys. Running, climbing or jumping during the day might increase the risk of leg pain at night.


How are growing pains diagnosed?

The diagnosis of growing pains is one of exclusion. The doctors should have ruled out other causes of extremity pain which may need additional investigation. The diagnosis of growing pains is made in children with typical symptoms and normal physical examination.


What are the symptoms which are more concerning?

· Systemic symptoms (eg, unexplained fever, weight loss)

· Persistent, worsening, or unilateral limb pain

· Pain during the day

· Limp or limitation of activities

· Abnormal physical examination (eg, decreased range of motion, warmth, tenderness, swelling, bruise)

· Pain that is isolated to the upper limb, back, groin, or in a joint

If your child’s symptoms show one or more of above features, please consult your doctor on time.


What are the treatments for growing pain?

There's no specific treatment for growing pains.

However, here are the list of things you can do to help your child ease the pain:

· Massage: gently massage your child’s legs

· Heat therapy: put heat pack on the painful area and remove the heat pack once your child falls asleep; give your child a warm bath before bedtime

· Pain reliever: take over-the-counter analgesics (eg, acetaminophen or ibuprofen). Avoid aspirin. It’s due to the possibility of causing a complication called Reye’s syndrome, which is a very serious illness that can cause liver and brain damage.

· Stretching exercises: stretching the muscles in the legs during the day may help prevent pain at night and relieve chronic symptoms.

· Physical therapy and/or foot orthoses: may benefit children with hypermobility, foot malalignment, genu valgum (inward tilted knee), and/or poor balance ability


What happens when the child gets older?

Growing pains are not associated with any serious disease. They won’t cause other problems or affect growth. Growing pains often improve spontaneously within a year or two, and usually resolve by late childhood.

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