When your child complains about an ache in his legs, it could be growing pains, which are typically described as an ache in the legs experienced late in the afternoon or in the evening. The pain is sometimes enough to wake a sleeping child.
“Children don’t feel sore while they’re having fun; only later, when the muscles relax, do the pains come on,” said HealthyChildren, a website run by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“Growing pains always concentrate in the muscles, rather than the joints. Most kids report pains in the front of their thighs, in the calves, or behind the knees,” said KidsHealth, a health resource site by The Nemours Foundation.
Growing pains usually strike children when they're 3 to 5 years old and when they've grown a little older at 8 to 12 years old, according to KidsHealth. Around 25 to 40 percent of kids experience them, and they’re more common in girls than boys.
If your child is going through them, the affected areas should still look normal. Any swelling, redness, or tenderness may be a sign of something more serious. Growing pains do not cause fever either.
What causes growing pains Despite the name, there’s no evidence that bone growth or growth spurts are painful. “Even at the peak of an adolescent growth spurt, a child’s rate of growth is too gradual to be painful,” said HealthyChildren.
“Many children experience musculoskeletal pain,” said pediatric rheumatologist Dr. Andrew Shulman of Children's Hospital of Orange County. “It’s a very common symptom but [growing pains] is not a good name because we don’t think it’s related to growth.”
The aches may be due to children’s flexible joints, which when overexerted causes the musculoskeletal pain, explains Dr. Shulman. “Repetitive movement at the extremes of the range of motion appears to cause strain and discomfort.”
Growing pains are most likely caused by your child’s playing during the day. “Overuse from activities such as running, climbing, and jumping can be hard on a child's musculoskeletal system,” said Mayo Clinic.
How to ease your child’s growing pains Your child’s growing pains should disappear on their own, but in the meantime, here's how you can ease your child's discomfort:
1. Massage Just as adults find it to be a relief, a massage on aching areas can provide comfort to a child with growing pains. For young children, try to avoid mineral oil as they can get hot especially when there’s a lot of friction. Edible oils like grapeseed oil, sunflower oil and virgin coconut oil (VCO) are recommended by pediatrician Dr. Roselyne M. Balita.
2. Warm compress or bath “Heat can help soothe sore muscles,” according to Mayo Clinic. Place a warm compress on your child’s legs before bed or when he complains of growing pains. A warm bath works, too.
3. Medication Ask your child’s pediatrician for medicine you can give to relieve growing pains. Do not medicate your child on your own. Aspirin should not be given to children as it has been linked to the rare but serious condition called Reye’s syndrome.
When to worry Consult with a doctor if your child’s pain is persistent, still present in the morning, severe, or located in the joints. Watch out for symptoms that are not associated with growing pains including limping, fever, loss of appetite, rashes, swelling, redness, weakness, and weight loss.
For any concerns regarding your child’s health, don’t hesitate to talk with your child’s pediatrician.