Parents & Teachers: Growing Pains
"Growing pains" is a harmless condition of unknown cause that affects 10% to 20% of growing children. It is somewhat more common in girls. Despite the name, growing pains:
- Do not occur during the time of most rapid growth – such as the adolescent growth spurt
- Do not occur at specific sites of growth
- Do not affect the growth of children who have them
- Occur in children 3 to 12 years of age
Below are some examples of symptoms both related and unrelated to growing pains. Please use this information to better understand the changes occurring within your child's body in order to make well informed health decisions.
Symptoms of Growing Pains
- Pain usually occurs in the both legs, especially thighs and calves, but may affect one leg at a time and vary which leg or part of the leg is affected.
- Pain in the arms is less common, but may occur in conjunction with leg pain.
- If the pain is localized to a single specific joint, it probably is not growing pains.
- Pain occurs almost exclusively in the evenings and night time, often causing awakening during the night.
- To ease the discomfort, try a massage, heating pad, or a mild nonprescription pain medication.
- Pain does not occur consistently during daytime activities or interfere with usual playground, recreational, or sports activities.
- However, children may complain more frequently in the nights following days during which they are very active.
- Growing pains do not cause limping.
- Pain may occur for months or years, as frequently as almost every night, often with symptom-free intervals of weeks or months.
- Symptoms may wax and wane but usually remain stable with time.
- Most children outgrow growing pains within several years.
- Children with growing pains have normal physical exam results.
- The results of X-rays and lab tests, although usually not needed, are also normal.
- Stretching the large muscle groups of the legs – such as the calves and thighs – can lessen symptoms, but is often impractical for young children.
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Symptoms Unrelated to Growing Pains
If any of the following symptoms are present, the diagnosis of growing pains is unlikely and you and your doctor should look for other causes.
- Symptoms of general illness, such as fever or weight loss
- Pain specific to a single joint
- Pain worsening with time
- Pain interfering with usual daytime activities
- Abnormal joint symptoms – such as restricted motion, redness, swelling, warmth, or tenderness in the related area
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About the Author
Dr. Harris specializes in sports medicine at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation and has specific expertise in the care of child and adolescent athletes.
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