Learn about this common condition involving leg pain in children, including growing pain symptoms and how to ease discomfort.
Growing pains are often described as an ache or throb in the legs — often in the front of the thighs, the calves or behind the knees. Growing pains tend to affect both legs and occur at night, and may even wake a child from sleep.
Although these pains are called growing pains, there's no evidence that growth hurts. Growing pains may be linked to a lowered pain threshold or, in some cases, to psychological issues.
There's no specific treatment for growing pains. You can make your child more comfortable by putting a warm heating pad on the sore muscles and massaging them.
Growing pains usually cause an aching or throbbing feeling in the legs. This pain often occurs in the front of the thighs, the calves or behind the knees. Usually both legs hurt. Some children may also experience abdominal pain or headaches during episodes of growing pains. The pain doesn't occur every day. It comes and goes.
Growing pains often strike in the late afternoon or early evening and disappear by morning. Sometimes the pain awakens a child in the middle of the night.
Consult your child's care provider if you're concerned about your child's leg pain or the pain is:
The cause of growing pains is unknown. But there's no evidence that a child's growth is painful.
Growing pains don't usually happen where growth is occurring or during times of rapid growth. It's been suggested that growing pains may be linked to restless legs syndrome. But muscle pain at night from overuse during the day is thought to be the most likely cause of growing pains. Overuse from activities such as running, climbing and jumping can be hard on a child's musculoskeletal system.
Growing pains are common in preschool and school-age children. They're slightly more common in girls than in boys. Running, climbing or jumping during the day might increase the risk of leg pain at night.
Your child may not need any testing for a diagnosis of growing pains. In some cases, your child's health care provider may recommend tests such as a blood test or X-ray. This helps exclude other possible causes for your child's signs and symptoms.
Not all types of leg pain in children are growing pains. Sometimes leg pain may be caused by underlying conditions that can be treated.
There's no specific treatment for growing pains. Growing pains don't cause other problems, and they don't affect growth. Growing pains often get better on their own within a year or two. If they don't go away completely in a year or so, they often become less painful. In the meantime, you can help ease your child's discomfort with self-care measures, such as massaging your child's legs.
Certain home remedies may ease discomfort:
Most children who have growing pains do not need to see a health care provider. If your child has pain that's persistent or unusual, ask your child's provider if an evaluation is needed.
Before the appointment, you may want to write a list that answers the following questions:
During the exam, your child's provider may ask questions about your child's symptoms and activities. The provider may also check your child's bones and muscles for signs of tenderness.