What are growing pains and how can parents help ease their child’s aching legs? Pediatricians explain.
Growing pains are a common part of childhood, but sometimes they can be stressful for children and their parents.
One is Chad Montgomery, whose 6-year-old son has been experiencing pain recently. “He’s very sensitive to things his body can’t understand,” Montgomery told Yahoo Life. “Growing pains are scary for him when he doesn’t understand why his legs suddenly start hurting.”
Veronica Thompson told Yahoo Lifestyle that her 4-year-old daughter “always complained of pain in her calves below the knee. But, she said, “she no longer wanted to walk because of the pain.” Thompson eventually took her to a pediatrician, who recommended hot packs, which she said helped.
Fellow parent Mark Joseph told Yahoo Lifestyle that his 5-year-old daughter has suffered from growing pains since she was 3 years old, which has been “quite a challenge” for the family. “She wakes up in the middle of the night, crying in pain,” he said. “Sometimes she can’t express her feelings because she can’t take it too much. As a parent, it’s very heartbreaking to watch her suffer like this.”
Kris McCormick told Yahoo Life that her 3-year-old has also been struggling with intense growing pains. “He would wake up in the middle of the night screaming and clutching his leg in pain,” she said. McCormick said the experience “scared us both” until she learned to help her son manage the pain.
An estimated 50 percent of children experience growing pains at some point. But as common as they are, there’s still a lot of mystery surrounding this health condition. Here’s what you need to know about growing pains and how you can help your child relieve them.
What exactly are growing pains?
Dr. Danelle Fisher, a pediatrician and chief of pediatrics at Providence St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that “growing pains” is a term used to describe the pain and soreness in a child’s legs that occurs, usually at night. According to Nemours, the condition usually occurs between the ages of 3 and 12.
“It usually happens in healthy children, and they usually complain at night or wake them up from sleep,” Fisher said. Symptoms may include pain, which usually occurs in the lower leg and may be felt behind the knee, according to Fisher.
Why do children seem to get these at night? Dr. Gary Reschak, a pediatrician at Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital, told Yahoo Life that it may simply be because they are more easily distracted during the day and don’t pay as much attention to them. In addition, Fisher notes that growth hormone is released when children are asleep. “When you sleep, you grow,” Fisher said. “The bones are just more active at night.” She explains that overnight growth may increase the risk of growing pains.
Growing pains have many mysteries, even in the medical community
Overall, the cause of growing pains is “unknown,” Reschak says. “Some studies suggest there may be some relationship with overuse of the limbs, but there is no consensus,” he added.
Fisher agrees. “These studies aren’t super conclusive,” she says. However, she notes that “everyone has a different pain threshold,” which may be why some children feel these pains more than others.
How to help your child cope with growing pains
Growing pains tend to come in waves, Reschak says. “Some days they happen almost every night, followed by months without any pain,” he shares. “It can last for years before the pain finally goes away completely and stops coming back.”
If your child is uncomfortable, Reschak says you can give them the over-the-counter medication ibuprofen or acetaminophen. “A gentle massage of the area can be helpful,” he says, noting that when your child has growing pains, it’s “not necessary” to let them relax or rest.
Fisher says she usually advises her patients to take ibuprofen because it has some anti-inflammatory mechanisms, while using a heating pad in the area.
When should I call my doctor about growing pains?
If your child otherwise seems healthy but occasionally has pain, Fisher says you should be able to help treat their discomfort at home with heat therapy and ibuprofen. “Every child will have a one-time pain once in a while,” she says. However, if the pain persists or really bothers your child, she recommends calling your pediatrician. “We just want to make sure we’re not missing anything else that’s causing the pain,” she says.