Barrett Labrum, DO, pediatrician, Primary Care Pediatrics

Many of us have children that have experienced leg pain at night. They wake up complaining of pain in both legs in the calf or thigh. They are crying and hard to comfort. Being parents, we worry and bring them into the doctor and are told, “Don’t worry it’s growing pains.” So what are growing pains?

There is no consensus diagnostic criteria for growing pains, but there are generally accepted guidelines:

  • The pain is not related to specific joints.
  • The pain is usually in the evening or night time.
  • The pain is severe enough to interrupt sleep.
  • The pain occurs monthly for at least three months, but can be more frequent.
  • The pain is intermittent and is associated with symptom-free periods.

Despite the convenient name for the pain, we do know that growing pains are not caused from increased growth. The pain is not associated with periods of increased growth, it is not associated with areas of growth and is does not affect growth patterns. With this said, we still do not know the exact cause of growing pains, but we do know that they are real. Often times parents state that the pain will increase with increased activity for the child. This may mean that the pain is related to muscle fatigue, or overuse injury or even restless legs.

Treatment for the growing pains include frequent breaks from activities during periods when the pain is present. Evidence suggests a wide variety of activities are better for children than only playing one sport all the time. A warm bath prior to bed is sometimes helpful. Pain is best controlled with gentle massage or a mild analgesic like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Please see your doctor if the following symptoms occur, as these are not common with simple growing pains:

  • Severe pain
  • Fever
  • Swelling in the joints that grows larger after 24 hours, despite therapy
  • Persistent lump in the muscle
  • Redness in the skin that is hot and hurts to touch
  • Very dark urine, especially after exercise

As always, if you are worried, contact your pediatrician.