Are growing pains real?
The short answer is yes. Growing pains are a real and usually harmless part of childhood. Though poorly understood, they are recognized as a common phenomenon occurring most often between the ages of 3 and 12.
What are growing pains? What do growing pains feel like? Growing pains in children are typically described as a mild to moderate ache or soreness in the legs, especially in the front of the thighs, the calves, or behind the knees.
The pain is commonly felt in both legs, particularly at night, with no apparent cause of pain. As yet, no one is able to explain why they happen, but growing pains are thought to be a normal response of a growing body as it adapts to new heights, sizes, strengths and skills.
Does this mean I can ignore my child’s pain?
Not so fast. While growing pains symptoms are harmless and usually transient, there are many childhood illnesses and conditions that do require professional assessment and, if left untreated, can cause serious harm. These include but are not limited to; Juvenile arthritis, childhood cancers (which often first present as knee or jaw pain), developmental hip dysplasia (abnormality of the hip joint), Perthes disease and a variety of other musculoskeletal disorders.
While it’s true that children are generally more resilient and heal well, they are also vulnerable to injuries, just like adults. Therefore, all serious strains and sprains should be rehabilitated correctly to ensure no long-term problems occur down the track. Many childhood pains can also be relieved with physiotherapy in the short term, even if the child eventually grows out of the pain.
How can I tell if the pain is abnormal?
Unfortunately, unless you are a trained professional, you won’t be able to tell. If you have any doubts, always contact a physiotherapist or doctor. Many clinicians have great respect for a parent’s intuition and acknowledge that parents are usually very good at knowing if something is wrong with their child.
Even if you’re sure nothing is wrong, there are a few signs and symptoms that you should take particular notice of. These include severe pain, pain that occurs suddenly without an apparent cause, pain that is one-sided, pain that affects your child’s activity levels, and pain that causes a limp or is associated with signs of general illness/fever.
Here are a few additional pieces of information about growing pains:
- Growing pains are more common in girls than in boys.
- While the exact cause of growing pains is unknown, they may be related to physical activity or the normal bone growth process.
- Growing pains can be a source of anxiety for children and parents, but it’s essential to reassure your child that they are not caused by anything serious and will eventually go away.
- Treatment for growing pains typically involves massage, stretching, gentle exercise, and over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. It’s important to follow the label’s dosage instructions and talk to your child’s healthcare provider before giving any medication.
Constant, severe and unrelenting pain is a serious sign that should be investigated at any age. If you’re worried, the first step is to consult a physiotherapist or general practitioner.
Remember that as a parent, it’s always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to your child’s health. If you have concerns about your child’s leg pain, it’s always best to consult a healthcare professional.
None of the information in this newsletter is a replacement for proper medical advice. Always see a medical professional for advice on your injury.