We don’t really know what causes growing pains – but it seems clear that they’re not caused by growing! In most children with growing pains, nothing obvious brings them on.
One theory is that they’re related to exercise, but this isn’t always the case.
In some children, growing pains might be linked with abdominal pain and headaches. This suggests that growing pains might be part of the way the child responds to stress.
Your child might complain of aching or a burning sensation in both legs – in the muscles of the thighs, calves or feet. The pains can also happen in the arms or other parts of the body, although this is much less common.
Growing pains usually happen at night, and can sometimes wake your child. They’re also common in the daytime but are rarely bad enough to get in the way of daily activity.
In most children, the pain or discomfort tends to come and go. It’s hard to know when they’re going to happen.
A child with growing pains will usually be happy to let you to massage the painful area. This often helps distinguish between growing pains and a more serious orthopaedic condition – children whose leg pains have a more serious cause will usually avoid letting anyone touch the area.
When to see your doctor
You should see your doctor if you think there’s something more serious going on – if the pains are very bad and don’t go away, if your child’s limping, or an affected part is tender or feels hot.
Your child won’t usually need any tests. Occasionally the doctor will order an X-ray or blood test to make sure there’s no other cause for the pain, such as a fracture or inflammation.
There’s no specific treatment for growing pains. Mostly, all your child needs is reassurance. Massaging or placing a heat pack over the affected area might help. Occasionally the doctor might suggest you give your child a mild analgesic such as paracetamol.
There’s no need to stop your child from doing physical activity.
Growing pains usually sort themselves out over time.
You can’t do anything to prevent growing pains.