Is your little one waking up with leg pains in the middle of the night? He or she could be experiencing growing pains.
Growing pains typically occur in children ages 3-12 years old and are described as an aching, cramping, or restless leg feeling in one or both legs.
“Growing pains is something that they usually feel in the evening and it involves the lower extremities,” explains Dr. Sarah Adams, pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital. “The most common areas where they’ll complain of pain are the shins, the knees and the thighs. It’s usually both legs.”
The pain, which affects both girls and boys, happens in the evenings and can even wake your child up at night.
“The pain can awaken the child, but there are no actual abnormalities or any limitations of activity,” says Dr. Shivani Joshi, University Premier Pediatricians Euclid, UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s. “The child is usually pain-free during the day.”
Is My Child Really Growing?
Despite the name, growing pains don’t actually mean that your child can feel their bones growing. The pain is usually described within the child’s muscle and not near their growth plates.
“No one really knows what growing pains are,” says Dr. Bradley Weinberger, pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic Children’s. “Despite the name, growth is probably not the cause. For example, growing pains are rare in adolescents despite them having more rapid growth than younger, school-aged children.”
Children might feel the growing pains if they’ve had an active day, but it’s not caused by exercise or activity.
Could it be Something More Serious?
There are times when parents might need to make an appointment with their pediatrician to rule out any other conditions.
“Parents should be concerned if their child also has any of the following: redness, swelling, infections, fevers, sickle cell disease, pain that occurs during the day or interferes with normal activities, or if they have any history of trauma to the area,” Joshi says. “Other concerning symptoms are unexplained fever; weight loss; decreased activity; persistent, increasing or one-sided limb pain; limping; or pain in the upper extremity, back or groin.”
Apart from evening pain, children should not complain of pain during the day or when they’re participating in an activity.
“Growing pains do not cause limping,” Weinberger says. “Growing pains do not show up as bruising or swelling of their joints.”
While growing pains can be very distressing for children, there are a few things you can do to help soothe your child.
“Massage is one of the best things you can do,” Adams says. “Ice or heat can help — whatever feels the best for your child. They can take Tylenol or Ibuprofen, but I would use that as a last resort.”
Stretching and adequate rest also may be helpful.
Children typically outgrow growing pains by late childhood and do not experience any long-term effects from them.