Posted on 13 January 2022 by Jason Wells
Often described as an ache or throb in the legs, growing pains are very real and most commonly felt in the front of the shin, thigh, back of knee and calf. Growing pains tend to affect both legs and generally peak at the end of the day and at night, they may even wake a child from sleep.
These pains are not inflammatory however can cause your child to feel increased sensitivity, reduced bone strength, bone fatigue and overuse. These pains can affect children aged three to eleven and it is common for the worse pain to affect those aged six through nine.
Growing pains are best managed with heat, massage, light stretching, compression, analgesia, activity modification and diet.
When children are young and active, it can be difficult to tell the difference between an injury pain and growing pains. Below are several differences you may experience:
- Timing: Growing pains are most often felt at night whereas pain from an injury is felt at the time of and following the accident occurring.
- Location: Growing pains mostly cause discomfort in the legs, while pain from an injury is an isolated pain to the specific injured area.
- Consistency: Pain from an injury is usually constant, but growing pains can come and go over a few nights, then eventually fade away.
- Other symptoms: Injuries usually have symptoms other than pain, such as: swelling, bruising, redness, deformity and trouble with movement.
- Becoming unwell: Growing pains shouldn’t affect how a child walks and runs and they do not make a child unwell. If your child is limping, complaining of pain during the day, or if the leg is sore to touch, it is best to seek help.
- Warm up and warm down
- Stretch well
- Wear good shoes
- Exercise daily
- Don’t continue sport until cleared after injury
Even though your child can be in a lot of pain, growing pains do not cause damage to their bones or muscles. These pains can respond to simple at home treatments, however if gentle massage, heat, stretching and analgesia do not improve your child’s discomfort, something else may be going on.
If the pain doesn’t go away in the morning and starts impacting their normal activities including walking and running, referral to a physiotherapist can help. Often a physiotherapist will recommend exercises to improve musculoskeletal fitness in a way that settles the growing pains. There may be another reason for the pain, in which case the physiotherapist will assess the joints, muscles and coordination to determine if there are limitations in these areas that contribute to symptoms.