Could My Child Have Growing Pains?

Question

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

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.

Last medical review on: July 14, 2010
About the Author
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Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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Please consider getting him tested for LYME disease! Also please consider that the CDC testing standards and protocol are wrong. Look for an LLMD and have him assessed!

why does my 9 year old daughter head hurts every time.

Hi good day I my son is 4 years old now I notice him this week he always wake up at night crying ..he said half of his head is very hurt and his both legs…I want to know why he feels it? What to do ? because at day time he didn’t feel anything….please help me….
MESSAGE from Philippines.

I have a 9 year old who has to stop a lot when he is walking or sitting to stretch his legs. How can I help him?

i am having six years old child with a late development now a days he is not able to walk properly he will be falling and he cold not speek but he will understand every thing and his back bone is slightly bend towards left for that sake he is having pain i think so please help me and give me the suggestion thank you

It happens daily

I am 13 years old. I have been to the doctor and they have prescribed me with ibrubrofen and diagnosed me with growing pains. However my pain is worse in the morning and is triggered by walking quickly/running, walking up and down stairs, squatting, kneeling and standing up after a long period of time. Is this growing pains or could it be more serious

It happens daily

Hi CJ,
Thanks for writing in! That sounds rough, for both you and your son.
Regarding growing pains, Dr. Greene says, “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.”
If he’s scared and has had trouble sleeping before, that’s a good thing to mention to your physician as well.
Good luck and please let us know how he’s doing!
Hope that helps!
Alexandra (caring helper at drgreene.com, not a doctor)

For the past two nights my 4 year old son is waking up screaming and scared that his legs don’t work, he’s freezing cold, and his whole body hurts. He’s also terrified to try and stand, walk, or go use the restroom. Does this sound like a bout of growing pains? or maybe night terrors? He’s had trouble sleeping before.

Hi CJ,
Thanks for writing in! That sounds rough, for both you and your son.
Regarding growing pains, Dr. Greene says, “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.”
If he’s scared and has had trouble sleeping before, that’s a good thing to mention to your physician as well.
Good luck and please let us know how he’s doing!
Hope that helps!
Alexandra (caring helper at drgreene.com, not a doctor)

My 2 year old son complaints about leg pain but ONLY at night time he wakes me up every hour…