Could My Child Have Growing Pains?

My 3-year old daughter is always complaining of pains in her legs during the night, could these be growing pains?
Shelly West – Kamiah, Indiana

Growing Pains

Dr. Greene’s Answer:

During childhood, the human body goes through an amazing series of changes. When babies are born their heads, hands, and feet are proportionally much larger in relation to their bodies than at any other time in life. It’s one of the things that make babies distinct and adorable. Throughout the growing up process, the human body changes proportions many, many times. Sometimes long, gangly arms and legs seem to shoot out over night! During these spurts of growth, children often complain of nighttime leg pain, hence the common label growing pains.

Most often, growing pains will feel like a sharp throbbing pain. The pain can occasionally even be strong enough to wake the child up from sleep. About 25 to -40% of children between the ages of 3 to 5 and again between the ages of 8 and 12 experience growing pains (Healthy Children, AAP, June 2010).

When children are plagued by episodes of recurrent, brief leg pain, it is a good idea for them to be checked once by a physician. If the physical examination is normal, with no redness, tenderness, swelling, or limitation of movement, and if the pain is not provoked by moving or associated with any abnormal gait, then this situation is what we often call growing pains. These pains typically occur at night with no resultant daytime disability. The actual source of the pain has never been proven, but long experience has taught us that they are benign and self-limited.

If the physical examination is not normal or the pain is associated with other symptoms, your doctor will be able to discuss in more detail other potential diagnoses such as chronic trauma, infection, restless leg syndrome, and childhood arthritis.

In children with benign growing pains, the muscles or tendons are still a little too tight for the growing long bones. Muscle spasms lasting from 1 to 15 minutes cause the pain. Many of these children are unable to touch their toes with their fingertips without bending their knees.

During a pain episode, stretching the foot and toes upward will often resolve the muscle spasm. Gentle massage and moist heat over the painful spot can also help.

In most cases the pain can be prevented with simple, daily stretching exercises. These exercises must be continued even after the pain subsides in order to keep the muscles and tendons relaxed and able to accommodate the next growth spurt.

Some physicians recommend giving a glass of tonic water before bed. I have never seen any studies evaluating this suggestion, but it might help and wouldn’t hurt. Plenty of fluids should make cramping less likely.

Although these painful occurrences of growing up are nothing to be worried about, like all of life’s growing pains, they can be quite bothersome when in the middle of an episode. It is precisely the reshaping of ourselves that causes physical and emotional growing pains — in both situations, the pain results in our becoming more mature people.

Dr. Alan Greene

Dr. Greene is the founder of DrGreene.com (cited by the AMA as “the pioneer physician Web site”), a practicing pediatrician, father of four, & author of Raising Baby Green & Feeding Baby Green. He appears frequently in the media including such venues as the The New York Times, the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, & the Dr. Oz Show.

  1. AMehm

    My 7 year old son complains of pain in his fingers, toes and “boy parts”.
    This started a couple of years ago. My husband said he had the same issues as a little boy and his parents just gave him a heating pad.
    I am worried it could be more. His pediatrician examined him but said he seems fine and to just give him Motrin or Tylenol.
    But my instincts say otherwise.
    I am now trying Chiropractic care. He is on very good vitamins and I have ordered him some Omega 3.

    He describes the pain like rocks slamming in the areas that hurt. The only relief he gets is when he squeezes them. He has me squeeze his finger tips and toes.
    Lately he tells me his whole body hurts.
    No inflammation, no swelling, no redness. He has full mobility and he runs and plays. But some days he won’t because he hurts.

    Any other mothers experience this with their child? I am researching and trying everything.

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  2. Kyndal

    I am 13 years old. I’m a pretty active person, I play lots of sports such as volleyball,track,basketball,gymnastics and now I’m a dancer and I have been having hip pain for about 9 days now. First it was my right hip, and 2 days later my knee started hurting but it stopped that same day, and after that I have been having bad pain on my left hip and sometimes my right will start hurting again. My parents keep saying that it’s probably growing pain, I don’t think it is. What should I do.

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    • Kyndal,

      This may be a gate issue. As a first step, make sure you’re wearing shoes that are right for you. In northern California there are stores that specialize in fitting the best shoes for your gate. You don’t pick out a style you like, they watch you walk or jog, then bring you shoes that they think will help you. Obviously, they are more expensive than just buying off-the-shelf athletic shoes. If you buy them and they don’t work well, you can bring them back.

      If you don’t get better, consider going to a sport medicine doctor or a physical therapist.

      Hope that helps,
      @MsGreene

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  3. zeeshan

    1) My son is 5 years old he often feel swear pain in his feet since age of 3 years) some time in his right or some time in his left foot. apparently his feet seem perfect but he often cry badly due to pain even i have to take him to some general physician. every time doc says he is fine.

    2) he is very week. his weight is 17.5 kgs.

    3) when ever he take bath or we comb his hair, we feel hair fall of 20 to 3 hairs. (me and my wife have very thick hair/ no family history of baldnee). why this is happening (his hair fall)

    Note: I am very worried can above mentioned system leads towards any bone or any other CANCER.

    PLEASE REPLY

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  4. Evelyn

    Every once in awhile my 3 yo daughter will complain at night about her legs hurting. Sometimes she will limp around for bit. She is a very active kid and never complains about this during the day. Well last night she complained of her legs and feet hurting. I usually give her a hot pack for them and she seems to like it. I rubbed them last night because she kept getting up almost every hour. It really worried me when she was crawling to me, crying saying she can’t walk. In the morning she got up and same thing. She is limping pretty bad still complaining about the same thing. She doesn’t want to walk because she said it hurts. I don’t know what to do, is this normal??

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  5. Jessie

    My 4yr old son has been complaining of leg pains for a few months now. I have been brushing it off as growing pains. Now that it’s gotten worse and be cries every night and very morning. I looked up growing pains and it says they do not happen in the morning. Ive made a appointment with the Dr. but I am wondering what test I should have done if he is complaining of sever leg pains morning and night? What could be wrong? Other than this he seems happy and healthy.

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    • Ksutto

      My son is 3 and wakes up every morning in tears saying he can’t walk cause his legs hurt! I still think it’s growing pains!! He doesn’t wake at night from it or have problems with it at night!!
      I’ve had an oncologist ( my son had a germ cell tumor st 18 months is fine now) check his legs he seems to think growing pains too!!!

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  6. Rumbi

    My daughter is 13 years old, and her back feels uncomfortable . she is unable to sit not the floor without bending her legs,touch her toes or life her legs up to 90°. Her posture is terrible sitting down. As a child she always used to walk on her tip toes and rest with one foot above the group and it rested on the other leg…kinda like a flamigo.

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  7. alliyah

    I have a freind she has black skin under her arms she went to the skin specialist did not help any idea how to get rid of it

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  8. Jocelyn Morales

    Hello my 4 year old daughter complains about back of the knee pain in the morning when she gets up she walks with a limp and at time she can’t even stand what could that be ?

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  9. Ngoo

    My one year son bends his foot while walking. He doesn’t allow the under foot to touch the floor. He cries only when i press it. Will it stop eventually?

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    • Ngoo,

      I think it would be wise to have this checked out by his doctor. It may be nothing, but it’s certainly worth having a physical exam.

      Best,
      @MsGreene

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  10. Benny

    my boy is 10years he is having regs problem starting bedding to much ,when he stand-up he start panning much ,what can I do know he is very short and working like a tortoise

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  11. Marcy

    I have suffered with these leg spasms/pain whatever you call it all my life. I’m 35 now and still get them, I’ve learned to control them better and they last sometimes 30 mins but if they hurt they return most of the day/night. My 1.5 yr old son now I believe has them. He wakes almost every other hour at night and is constantly hugging his legs into his chest. Here’s the strange part, mine has always been associated with being too gassy, I’m worried he now has the same issue. It mostly happens when I eat corn products, however i never been tested for a food allergy. No doctor has ever seemed to put the two together nor can I. I feel for my son because he cannot tell me what’s going on yet so I just do my best to rub his legs and soothe him back to bed.

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  12. mom

    My son is 3 years old. He suffers from pain almost every night and wakes up every hour or two crying in pain. Is this normal?

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    • Hi Mom,

      This sounds horrible and heart wrenching. Where is his pain?

      @MsGreene

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  13. Tristan

    My 4 yr old daughter has been complaining of pain behind her left knee for close to a yr now. It happens more at night, but it has caused her problems in the day. She plays so hard on her legs and knees I wasn’t sure if it’s growing pains because she has grown more in height lately or if it’s because she just plays so hard on them? Do you think I should get her checked out? Or do you think its more growing pains than anything else?

    Thank you,
    Tristan

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    • Seren

      I’m 14 and I have had these leg cramps mainly in my right leg, for about 3 plus years now…they’re getting more painful each time, last about five or more mins at least for me, To where I’m crying and biting my pillow… I don’t play sports or anthing that can overextend that muscle. I haven’t gone to the doctor for them but I would recommend that u should take her in, so hopefully they don’t get worse…. I hope this does not scare anyone, but they can get really painful.

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      • Seren,

        When you have these cramps, this may help end the cramp — get out of bed, place the foot of the leg with the cramp on the floor, then lean your weight into that leg. For some people that breaks the cramping cycle. It’s not a long term cure, but it may make them less painful when you do have them.

        Please let us know how this works, if you try it.

        Hope it helps,
        @MsGreene

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  14. Sophia

    My4 year old daughter was always a happy and healthy baby. But from last year she started to complain that her toes hurt. I thought it’s because she is putting on socks all the time. So I had to stop that but her complain was going on. There’s absolutely no sign of anything . Her toes look fine. She didn’t cry but couldn’t play or anything for few moments. I used to rub Vaseline or olive oil on her toes and after a while she was like , it’s gone. That’s how it’s going on for more than a year. Nowadays she complain s about both of her knees and elbows. She wakes up at night and cries a little bit saying her knees, hand , toes hurt. I am really worried now because its increasing day by day. Don’t know what’s going on with her. She gets cold and cough very easily and quite often. We give her over the counter cold medicine . Don’t know if that has anything to do with it. Please help !

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    • Hi Sophia,

      I’m so sorry your daughter is in pain. This may be more than growing pains. It would be wise to see her pediatrician. He or she may recommend seeing a specialist for a diagnosis and treatment.

      Best,
      @MsGreene

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  15. michelle

    My daughter 18 complaining of foot pain that goes IP her leg…she says it feels real tight and hurt…

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  16. Stephanie

    My daughter is turning 10 tomorrow. For the last couple months she has been waking up in the morning ( not every morning) limping and complaining about her left knee. She says it hurts right below her knee where her shin starts. But by the end of the day no pain. Well she had bad pain and limping this morning. So I called school to check on her and they let me talk to her. She said she was feeling better until she got hit in her left let during PE and it made her fall on that same knee. She can walk on it but now her knee is swollen. Ugh…..I understand why her knee is swollen. But what I’m asking is why the speratic pains in one leg only in mornings.

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  17. Cristina

    I’m 11 years old and I’m suffering from growing pain both my thighs and calfs hurt every time I walk but my thighs hurt when I sit down I have to run a lap in gym and they hurt so badly but I don’t tell my teacher cause I try to deal with it myself and I don’t tell me parents my pain hasn’t gone away I’ve had my growing fro almost two weeks it continues in the morning and night plz I need advice

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    • Hi Cristina, Sounds like a good time to tell your parents. You should have to “deal with it” all by yourself.

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  18. Precious

    My son is having pains in his legs his 5years old when he stands or walk he crys and this pains started when he was sick with flue and cough and his Doctor says he has Chest infection so after the Doctor next following day the pains start at night when he was about to woke up and pee he still having the pains even nw. Plz help I don’t know what to do anymore

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  19. Carol

    My 12 years old daughter complain a sharp pain at her both legs. After physical examination, her doctor mentioned she has a grown pain. I don’t have any ideas to reduce her pain. Does she need more excises or take calcium pills Vitamin D?

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  20. Carol

    My 12 years old daughter complain the sharp pain at her both legs. After physical examination, her doctor mentioned it’s growing pains. I don’t have any ideas to reduce her pain. Does she need more excises or take calcium pills or Vitamin D?

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  21. Wendy

    My 14yr old daughter is complaining about “growing pains” she had it yesterday night before bedtime and now she has them again. It’s hurting her calves and thighs. I want to make sure if this is a growing pain?

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    • Zaviyah

      I am also 14 years old and suffering from same problem through which your daughter is suffering but i don’t know why my leg and back is paining so much and it is happening to me since two years

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      • Gwen

        Im 14 too, and I feel the same aches and pains, only everywhere on every joint and in every muscle. I don’t know what this is, but I feel it 24/7 and I have done research. try vitamins and maybe a little Benadryl. if you find out what it is, please tell us.

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        • Gwen,

          Have you seen a doctor? It sounds like it’s time for a physical.

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        • Hana

          I’m 14 years old and I have the same pains I have psoriasis arthritis I was diagnosed with this when I was 13 but now I have back pains , when I was 10 I had severe growing pains it was hard to move . growing pains last till 12 years you should get a check up and start eating vitamins it helps honestly.

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  22. Lisa

    Hi
    my 6 year old told me his back hurts sometimes when he “runs hard” and has to sit down, then yesterday he said his legs “feel weird”. Then he said he has to “peepee a little after running hard”… I am beginning to worry. He said its not all the time. I google and of course its all awful stuff. He seems to play normally most of the time. I made apt with pediatrician but im scared its something awful. Can anyone offer some advice or anyone experience this?

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  23. Eliza

    Could be gluten issue like a sensitivity or celiac as it causes joint pain.

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  24. Jessica

    My 3rd year old son has started recently complaining about his leg hurts. He will stop playing and rub his leg complaining it hurt. It mostly happens during the day when he’s playing avidly.

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  25. marianela

    My eleven year old has been complaining about having strong pain under his left knee when he runs , it so strong that he cries , I have tried putting heat and wraping it but it does not seem to help. He is very athletic kid and I hate to see him not being able to run with out a lot of pain to the point where he has to stop all toguether and can’t enjoy while his friends just continue to run and play .

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  26. shiela mae avila

    Why are my knees in pain almost since I was kid until now. I’m 18 already and my knees are getting worse. It hurts even if I’m not walking, or I’m just sitting or lying only. Why does it still hurt? Please answer.

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  27. maria

    My daughter is 11 years old, and she started complaining about pain on one of her feet. She is very active, so I took her to her doctor to make sure everything was ok. The doctor told me it was growing pains, and recommended to ice the feet every time she could, rest and take some ibuprofen. I have done that, but the pain is still there, especially after she plays a game.

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  28. Kim

    My 2 Year old boy has been waking in the night crying out back hurt!!! Back hurt!!! he has also complained that his back hurts in the car while in his carseat. He loves his carseat ( he is the youngest of 4 ) i know most kids don’t like their carseats but this one loves his. begs me to bring it in the house so he can nap in it sometimes. Last night he woke up 4 times crying his back hurt wouldn’t let me hold him or console him. just arched and then go into childs pose over and over till he finally went back to sleep. Please advise. Thank you

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  29. mom

    My daughter is 12 years old and she is complaing of sharp aching feet pain. It hurts her when she runs, walks, stumps and she is in a sport. Should I be worried of her feet hurting during a game? I dont know what to do. Some one please help me.

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    • Liily-may wood

      Many children have this it is common so don’t worry try and relax them and make sure they are ok you may want to give the tablets

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  30. Sorayamatin@mobilee.vodafone.com

    My son is almost 9years old. He sometimes complains about pain in his chest. Sometimes it’s sharp, but lasts only a second. I’ve ask the doctor and she told me its part of growing up, but it still worries me. Can you give me advise about what I should do? Thank you.

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    • jessica

      I am 25 years old and I can remember having sharp pains in my chest and last for a few seconds or so since I was really young. After years of having it periodically, it got worse when I started moving around more and one night it didn’t last a few second it lasted a good while. I was scared so I went to the ER. They diagnosed me with Pluresy. They prescribed me Naproxen an anti inflammation medication. And it helped so much! When I knew I would be active I would take one and my chest would not hurt. If I would forget to take it. My chest would hurt. Maybe that’s something you should look into

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    • Megan

      My little girl is having pains in her chest if a family member has an inhaler let the have 1 go no more my little girl said it takes the pain away

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  31. mo

    my daughter is 5yrs old and she constantly complains of leg pains. her doctor told me it was because she’s growing but all she did was listen to me and didn’t check her. she still complains of this leg pain. it’s her right leg, behind the knee area. I feel bad because she literally complains almost everyday. anyone have any other suggestions??

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    • Nettie

      I am definitely not a doctor, just a mom with kids that have had leg pain. I know you posted this in January, but if she isn’t better I would definitely get a second opinion. Maybe a referral to a doctor at a Children’s Hospital – not that they are any better, but they see such a variety of problems and with children. I personally think a doctor should always do a physical check. I was told by my pediatrician that children do not have growing pains during the day – of course, every doctor has a different opinion. My son had lots of leg pains growing up and they have turned into a pain/anxiety problem ~ not that that is what your daughter has at all, but that is how things have ended up for us. Maybe look up some fun stretches for her. That is what my sons PT has him do – stretches to strengthen those muscles.

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      • Nettie

        Along with a second opinion, another important thing to do if you can is to keep them moving and doing most of their normal activities if you can :) I hope your daughter is running around and having fun :) I know it is heart breaking to see your child in pain and not know what to do about it and then if you feel doctors are dismissing it as normal and it doesn’t feel normal to you or your daughter it is really hard. You can find different things like belly breathing that might help. There is a great book called Be the Boss of your Pain, by Timothy Culbert, that is written for kids (it says age 8, but I am sure you could go over it with her at her age) – it has different methods in it children can use to get through pain (that you can help them get through their pain). Some things you may like to use and some not, but you can choose what would work well for your daughter!

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    • Nettie

      I know I keep commenting ~ but the reason I mentioned to keep her going through it as best you can, is that sometimes kids want to sit out or the pain is so bad they feel like “they can’t” and that can grow into something where they don’t feel they can do anything through the pain. My son at 10 ended up missing months of school and not walking at all, we were carrying him through the house and he used a wheelchair and he was in pain all day long ~ although it came down to pain/anxiety issues, I still wonder to this day if there was something doctors missed – but the most important thing I learned from that was to keep him going as best we could and teach him that he could do things during pain (that was the hardest part for all of us and really we didn’t do it very well ~ some days we felt we just couldn’t). At that time I never would have thought he could myself, but after going through PT at Childrens along with a pain psychologist his leg pain went away.

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    • Zaviyah

      I am suffering from same pain in my knee….
      It hurts me alot…
      But why it happens to me i don’t know

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  32. tiffany rouse

    My daughter is 4 and I am very concerned. She has been telling me for the past 3 months that her body hurts. She will be sitting down at any time of the day. She will start stretching and moving around – stretching her arms out straight, popping her knuckles, just saying her whole body hurts. She needs to go to the doctor again because she says it hurts all the time and that she wants a new body. She doesn’t cry about this constant pain she’s having. Please give me some advise on what you think this might be. Each month that goes by I’m scared because I thought it would eventually go away, but there’s not one day that goes by that she doesn’t say something about her body hurting. Her doctor hasn’t tried to run any tests or think it’s serious, but the longer that goes by makes the more nervous I become.

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  33. Mckenzie

    my daughter has experienced what we thought were just growing pains since she was 3 or 4. now she is 16 and has horrible aching pains in either both legs or one about twice a month. she was told she was done growing & these aches keep her up pacing & moving for hours at night. please help us out with a reccomendation. thanks.

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    • Gabrielle

      I used to have the same problem when I was a kid. It all started around the age of 5 or 6 my leg and feet would hurt so bad I felt like my bones were soo stiff and cold… the only thing that calmed me was having then rubbed with warm or hot olive oil then wrapped. I had these problems off and on til about the age of 14 or 15 then they dissappeared. I’m 26 now and haven’t had one since so I guess it just takes time to go away but crazy cause the pain is ridiculous.

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  34. Megan

    My daughter has been complaining of knee pain for a few days now. No consistency in the time. She has been ill with a cold. Wondering if the pain is growing pain or from the cold or should I have her checked.

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    • Robyn Rosales

      I’m sitting here as I type this one handed and my other hand rubbing my 8 yr old sons calves….same exact thing…he’s sick with a cold….woke me up saying they hurt and he can’t walk….so a trip to the E.R is almost 100 miles away and I’m looking on the Web for help or info

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  35. Karen

    My granddaughter has had “growing pains” for a while now. She is 12 now. We have found that making sure she is well hydrated has limited the times and duration of these pains. Water is a great fixer upper for many ailments and around our house, it’s the bomb. It “cures” hiccups, headaches, stomach aches, indigestion, growing pains and so many more illnesses. Thanks for the blog.

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  36. Domnic Dsouza

    My Son is complaining all the time “my hands are hurting”. He always cracks his knuckles. He is 9 years old. He is a Goalkeeper in his school team. What should I do? Please suggest.

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  37. Kaami Sen

    My 5 year old has this problem for more than year now.Wakes up at night of sharp pain
    and cries for hours.Now she says her arms and legs both hurt.

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  38. cchav

    My 5 year old son has chronic pains that last for hours. The pedriaticians cannot diagnose what is the cause. The doctor said he is okay; his blood test for chronic arthitis was negative, uric acid negative, no cancer cells were detected, x-ray was okay. He has no fractures.The worries are that he still continues with the chronic pains, he limps, and first it was only on the right leg now it is in both. We seeked a second opinion and all the test were retested and everything seems okay. He has been having this symptoms for 3 weeks .I really would like to know or have atleast an idea what is the cause, since the doctors cannot diagnose. He is only treated with pain relief medication, ibruprofen. Please, provide an urgent reccomendation. Thank You.

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    • loveline

      My son has same Problem and the doctors examined and said all is well with him, we should Keep a Close watch on the Situation. Maybe he is growing up.

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    • Steph

      If all the medical tests have come back negative, find a pediatric chiropractor in your area. Good luck!

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