I wanted to write about growing pains as there is often much confusion amongst parents. It is a popular and often wrongly used term by parents, teachers and even health professionals as a ‘one size fits all' diagnosis in the growing child. This blog will look at the typical signs of 'growing pains' as opposed to what may be a specific joint or muscle condition that needs prompt assessment and treatment.
True ‘growing pains’ are actually a misnomer but an easier one to remember than their other name 'benign nocturnal limb pains of childhood'! As this name suggests the cause is unknown and it does not appear to be directly related to growth but is more often found in a physically active child and children with hypermobility of their joints. It is really important to ascertain what may be growing pains, as listed below rather than other pains that could be a sign of something more serious, such as arthritis, vitamin D deficiency and even leukemia.
Signs of growing pains:
Usually affects children ages 3-12. It doesn't affect teenagers
Pain in both legs which develops in the evening, but is never there on waking. Pain usually in shins, calves and ankles
There is no change in daytime physical activities
Pain can be very distressing for all the family and is often described as crampy and intense muscle pains
They can come and go but they may be there for months. They do eventually settle with time
Pain is often worse after a very active day
There is no swelling or bruising
The child is healthy and well
There is no limping
When should I seek further advice from the doctor ?
Any joint swelling
Pain in a single leg rather than both
Waking every night with pain
Fever, weight loss, lack of appetite
Limping or reluctance to walk
Unable to continue to play sports or join activities because of pain
Pains affecting other parts of the body rather than just legs
What can I do to help?
Growing pains can cause much distress to the child, disturb sleep and generally be a miserable time for all the family.
You can try firm massage and/ or give painkillers such as paracetemol or ibuprofen before bed. Sometimes heat help.
Reassure your child that the pain is not serious but that you do understand it exist.
Keeping a diary may help to ascertain when the pain comes on e.g. After a physically active day.
Check your child’s footwear is supportive and fits well.
Don’t stop your child continuing with their usual activities.
Pain that does not fit the very specific criteria above should never be dismissed as ‘just a growing pain’, although it may be a problem due to the maturing skeleton. Most children who come to see me with growing pains do not fit this criteria and actually have a specific musculoskeletal condition that can be treated successfully.
Children and parents are often told they 'will grow out of it' , but in fact recent research has found that children diagnosed with ‘growing pains’ in their knees as teenagers are significantly more at risk of osteoarthritis as adults.
Correct assessment and treatment by a children’s physiotherapist will help children who are in pain and get them back into their chosen activities.