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updated November 16, 2010

Growing pains

Filed under: Children's Health
Growing pains tend to affect both legs and occur at night. In many instances, growing pains will wake a child from sleep. The term "growing pains" may be a misnomer because there's no evidence that growth hurts.

Doctors don't know exactly what causes growing pains, but they may be linked to a lowered pain threshold or, in some cases, to psychological issues.

There's no cure for growing pains. You can make your child more comfortable by putting a warm heating pad on the sore muscles and massaging them. For most children, growing pains stop once they reach their teens. While growing pains are harmless, some types of leg pain in children may be caused by underlying conditions that can be treated.

©1998-2013 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). Terms of use.
Read this article on Mayoclinic.com.

Growing pains are often described as an ache or throb in the legs — often in the front of the thighs, the calves or behind the knees. Usually both legs hurt. Some children may also experience abdominal pain or headache during episodes of growing pains.

Growing pains often strike in the late afternoon or early evening and disappear by morning. Sometimes the pain awakens a child in the middle of the night.

When to see a doctor
Consult your child's doctor if you're concerned about your child's leg pain or the pain is:

  • Persistent
  • Still present in the morning
  • Severe enough to interfere with your child's normal activities
  • Located in the joints
  • Associated with an injury
  • Accompanied by other signs or symptoms, such as swelling, redness, tenderness, fever, limping, rash, loss of appetite, weakness or fatigue

©1998-2013 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). Terms of use.
Read this article on Mayoclinic.com.

There's no evidence that a child's growth is painful. However, running, climbing and jumping can be hard on a child's musculoskeletal system. Muscle pain at night from overuse during the day is the most likely cause of growing pains.

©1998-2013 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). Terms of use.
Read this article on Mayoclinic.com.

Growing pains are most common from ages 2 to 12 and 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.

©1998-2013 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). Terms of use.
Read this article on Mayoclinic.com.

Most children who have growing pains will not need to see a doctor. If the pain is persistent or unusual, you may want to bring your concerns to the attention of your family doctor or pediatrician.

What you can do
Before the appointment, you may want to write a list that answers the following questions:

  • Where does the pain occur?
  • Is there a certain time of day when the pain usually occurs?
  • How long does the pain last?
  • What, if anything, relieves the pain?
  • Does the pain wake your child up at night or make it difficult to fall asleep?
  • Has your child experienced any other signs or symptoms — such as swelling, redness, abdominal pain or headaches?
  • Has your child recently started a new physical activity?

What to expect from your doctor
During the exam, your doctor may ask questions about your child's symptoms and activities. He or she will check your child's bones and muscles for signs of tenderness.

©1998-2013 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). Terms of use.
Read this article on Mayoclinic.com.

Doctors can usually diagnose growing pains without having to order any tests. In some cases, though, your doctor may order blood tests or X-rays to help rule out other problems that may be causing your child's signs and symptoms.

©1998-2013 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). Terms of use.
Read this article on Mayoclinic.com.

There's no specific treatment for growing pains. However, you can help ease your child's discomfort with self-care measures, such as massaging your child's legs.

©1998-2013 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). Terms of use.
Read this article on Mayoclinic.com.

You can help ease your child's discomfort with these home remedies:

  • Rub your child's legs. Some children respond to gentle massage. Others feel better when they're held or cuddled.
  • Use a heating pad. Heat can help soothe sore muscles. Use a heating pad on a low setting before bedtime or when your child complains of leg pain. Remove the heating pad once your child falls asleep. A warm bath before bedtime may help, too.
  • Try a pain reliever. Offer your child ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others). Avoid aspirin, due to the risk of Reye's syndrome — a rare but serious condition linked to giving aspirin to children.

©1998-2013 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). Terms of use.
Read this article on Mayoclinic.com.

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