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If growing doesn't hurt, how do you explain growing pains?

The name "growing pains" is actually somewhat inaccurate. However, the pain your child feels is real and there are some simple things you can do to help reduce their discomfort.

Causes

Intermittent growing pains are normal for growing children, but contrary to popular belief, they do not occur where the growth plates in the legs are expanding. Researchers haven't been able to pinpoint the cause. One theory is the muscles in your child's legs get overused during the day, and then at night when a child is resting or less-active, the muscles begin to repair themselves. This causes the aches and occasional spasms.

Symptoms

Symptoms can vary from one child to the next and even from one episode to the next. Generally, growing pains occur in both legs during the early evening and sleep. The pain is usually located in the muscles of the thighs, calves and behind the knees, and the pain can result in muscle spasms. Some children also complain of stomach aches, headaches and nausea in conjunction with the pains. A child may have an evening of discomfort and awake pain free the next day. It is common that growing pains are sporadic.

Diagnosis

If your child is experiencing possible growing pains, it's wise to consult your pediatrician. A doctor can diagnose growing pains with a simple examination and series of questions. Further diagnostic procedures are not necessary unless your physician is ruling out other possible diagnoses.

How to Treat Growing Pains

Treatment of growing pains depends on how much pain your child has. As a general rule, use pain medication sparingly. First, try one or all of the following:

  • Massage your child's legs
  • Have your child take a warm bath or apply hot packs or heating pads to the aching area. Be sure to monitor temperatures to avoid scalding or burning of the skin.
  • Teach your child stretching exercises to help with flexibility and circulation.
  • Give your child over-the-counter pain medicine such as Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen. AVOID aspirin.

Seeking Medical Help

Growing pains are most often felt in both legs. If your child complains of just one leg hurting, you may want to contact your pediatrician. Pain in one leg may be a sign of a more serious condition.

Growing pains affect muscles — not bones or joints. If your child is limping or running a temperature, please see your physician.

If your child had a fall or injury, is running a temperature, limping, feeling weak, experiencing loss of appetite or nausea, showing bruising or a rash, swollen joints or loss of feeling in the foot, and is complaining of growing pains — see your provider.

And as a parent, you know best. Listen to your intuition. If you think something is wrong with your child, contact your pediatrician.

Elizabeth Walenz, MD

Methodist Physicians Clinic Regency

Dr. Walenz answers your questions about child health and parenting. Dr. Walnez loves seeing kids grow and helping them lead a long healthy life. She is especially interested in nutrition, growth and development. She believes in a team approach when caring for children. She thinks it is important to listen to the patient, the parents as well as her health care team when deciding the best care for her patients. She always tries to talk to the children directly and ask them how they are fe ...

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