What’s commonly called “growing pains” is the most common type of limb pain in children. The condition can be painful, but fortunately, it isn’t dangerous and there are things you can do to ease your child’s discomfort.
As children grow and develop, it’s not uncommon for them to experience some discomfort, most often in their legs.
“Growing pain is often related to muscle tension that is happening around the time that they are growing quickly,” says pediatrician Dr. Pilar Bradshaw. “The times when growing pains are most evident is when kids are going through their growth spurts in early elementary school, and we see it again in teenagers.”
Most kids with growing pains have pain in their thighs, calves, shins, or behind the knees. The pain usually is in both legs and does not involve the joints.
Although they’re called growing pains, the cause behind the discomfort isn’t clear. Even at the peak of an adolescent growth spurt, a child’s rate of growth is too gradual to be painful. They might just be aches from the jumping, climbing, and running that kids do during the day.
To help relieve leg pain, Dr. Bradshaw recommends an age-appropriate dose of ibuprofen, leg stretches or massage, or a warm bath before bedtime.
“If it’s really bad, you can use ice packs and that often feels even better than the warmth on kids with growing pains,” she says.
Pain in the limbs can sometimes signal something more serious, so it’s important to pay attention to your child’s symptoms.
“I would call your pediatrician if it is very intense pain that causes your child to limp, if it’s always in one leg or one spot,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “If it’s accompanied by any systemic symptoms like fever, or if there’s swelling, redness, or swelling of the joints in their legs, you should call your doctor.”
It’s estimated that between 10% to 35% of children experience growing pains at least once during development. While there is no way to prevent or avoid growing pains, they usually aren’t serious and are a common part of childhood.