What are growing pains?
Growing pains are cramping or aching pains in your child’s limbs. They usually affect your child’s legs. Growing pains are the most common cause of pain in your child’s musculoskeletal system. The pains generally affect both legs and happen at night. Growing pains usually occur in kids ages 3 to 12. These pains occur equally in boys and girls. By the time your child is a teenager, the growing pains should stop. Although these pains are called growing pains, there's no evidence that growth causes the pain.
Are growing pains real?
Growing pains isn’t a good description for this condition because they’re not related to growing or a growth spurt. The name was given in the 1930s to 1940s when the pains were thought to be from faster growth of the bones than of the tendons. We know today that’s not true. The name has remained despite our new understanding of these pains.
Symptoms and Causes
What are the signs and symptoms of growing pains?
Growing pains occur mostly in your child’s legs (shins, calves, thighs or behind their knees) and affect both sides of their body. The pain appears late in the day or at night, often awakening your child. By morning your child is well, with no pain or stiffness. Pain will often occur on days of increased physical activity.
What do growing pains feel like?
Growing pains feel different for each child. Most often, your child will feel a deep cramping or aching pain. The degree of pain can be mild or very severe. Some children feel growing pains for a couple of minutes and others feel the pains for several hours. Growing pains may be intermittent, with pain-free intervals from days to months. In some children, the pain can occur daily.
What causes growing pains?
There’s no known cause of growing pains, but there’s no evidence that growth causes the pain. There are several theories:
- Researchers believe increased physical activity can lead to overuse of your child’s muscles, which can cause pain.
- Some studies show that children with growing pains have a lower pain threshold. These children are more likely to have headaches and abdominal pain as well.
- Many children with growing pains have very flexible joints (hypermobility) and have flat feet. Being hypermobile can cause growing pains.
- One study found that children with growing pains have less bone strength due to low vitamin D levels.
Diagnosis and Tests
How are growing pains diagnosed?
There are no tests to diagnose growing pains. Your child’s healthcare provider may perform a physical examination and will ask you about your child’s symptoms. They will ask where your child’s pain is located, when the pain started and what your child was doing on the day the pain started. If your child was very active during the day — playing sports, exercising, running or jumping — your child’s healthcare provider may diagnose growing pains. Lots of physical activity during the day can cause growing pains at night.
Growing pains typically occur on both sides of your child’s body and disappear by morning. If your child’s pain is only on one side of their body and/or they wake up with pain or stiffness, your child’s healthcare provider may order laboratory tests or imaging tests to rule out other potential causes of the pain.
Management and Treatment
How are growing pains treated?
There’s no specific treatment for growing pains. Your child’s healthcare provider will suggest ways that you can help your child manage their pain. Treatment options your child’s healthcare provider may suggest include:
- Gently massaging the painful areas.
- Stretching the muscles in the painful areas.
- Putting a heating pad over the painful area.
- Giving your child mild over-the-counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®), ibuprofen (Advil®) or naproxen (Aleve®).
- Increasing physical activity.
- Strengthening hypermobility with physical therapy.
- Wearing orthotics (shoe inserts) if your child has flat feet.
Outlook / Prognosis
What is the outlook for growing pains?
While they can be uncomfortable for your child, growing pains aren’t dangerous. They won’t lead to any serious health conditions and they usually resolve by late childhood. However, frequent episodes may have a major impact on your child and your family's daily routine. Growing pains may cause daytime tiredness (fatigue), reduced physical activity and missed school. Talk to your child’s healthcare provider about the best ways to manage your child’s growing pains.
What can I do to manage my child’s growing pains?
You can’t prevent your child’s growing pains. However, there are some things you can do to help lessen the pain:
- Encourage your child to take regular breaks when physically active.
- Sign your child up for different sports and activities that will use different muscles in their body.
- Have your child take a warm bath before bedtime to ease sore muscles aches and pains.
When should my child see their healthcare provider?
Mild growing pains are normal. But call your child’s healthcare provider if they develop any of the following symptoms:
Frequently Asked Questions
Do growing pains make you taller?
There’s no evidence growing pains make you taller. They’re not connected to rapid growth or a growth spurt in any way.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Growing pains are deep cramping or aching pains in your child’s limbs, specifically their legs. The pain typically affects both legs and occurs at night. Although these pains are called growing pains, there’s no firm evidence that suggests growing pains are caused by your child’s growth. More likely, the pain is caused by increased physical activity during the day. Treatment for your child’s growing pains includes managing the symptoms with massage, heat, stretching and mild pain relievers if necessary. Contact your child’s healthcare provider if the pain worsens or if other symptoms develop.
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