What are growing pains?

The term "growing pains" refers to a benign (not dangerous) pattern of pain in the limbs. This pain usually occurs in children aged 3 to 12. These pains are the most common type of limb pain in children. Between 10% and 35% of children will have these pains at least once. These pains occur in both boys and girls.

Are these pains associated with growing?

Because these pains most often occur during years when the child's growth is not at its fastest rate, the pains are NOT associated with growing. The name was given in the 1930s to 1940s when the pains were thought to be from faster growth of the bones when compared to the growth of the tendons. We know today that this is not true. The name has remained despite our new understanding of these pains.

What causes growing pains?

We do not know the cause of growing pains, but there are several theories. Many children with these pains are very flexible (hypermobile) with flat feet. Some children with these pains have a low pain threshold and may also have headaches and abdominal pain. One study found that children with these pains have less bone strength than the normal population. Therefore, pain on a day of increased physical activity may mean the child may have pain from "overuse" of the legs.

What are the symptoms of growing pains?

Growing pains occur mostly in the legs (shins, calves, behind the knees or thighs), and affect both sides of the body. The pain appears late in the day or at night, often awakening the child. By morning the child is well, with no pain or stiffness. Parents often report that they can predict when the pain will occur, often on days of increased physical activity or when the child is tired and grumpy. The duration of the pain is usually between 10 and 30 minutes, although it might range from minutes to hours. The degree of pain can be mild or very severe. Growing pains are intermittent, with pain-free intervals from days to months. In some children the pain can occur daily.