Leg pain in children is fairly common, with causes ranging from strained muscles or, more commonly, as the result of growing pains; however, they may also be a sign of more serious conditions.
Growing pains is the popular term for a condition that, in reality, probably has little to do with actual growth: it’s more likely the result of a child’s activity levels. Because they tend to be very active – running around, climbing, playing, etc. – their developing bodies may feel some strain. Growing pains typically start around preschool (ages 3 to 4), and then disappear for a few years until striking again around ages 7 to 12.
The type of pain associated with growing pains is usually an aching or throbbing in the legs (almost always in both), especially the front of the thighs, the calves, and the back of the knees; they most often occur in the late afternoon or at night, which is one reason medical experts think they’re caused by a day of activity. Because they occur at night, these leg pains may interfere with sleep, but if your child feels fine in the morning, it doesn’t mean that they were faking – it’s unusual for these pains to occur in the early hours of the day. Growing pains can be treated at home with warm compresses and stretching, but if the pain is more severe you can consult your doctor about giving your child over the counter pain medicine.
In some cases, pediatric leg aches are a sign of something more serious. One way to distinguish between growing pains and another condition is through other symptoms. If your child feels aching in both legs, towards the end of the day, and has no other symptoms, it’s probably growing pains. However, if they show symptoms such as persistent pain throughout the day, visible swelling or redness around the joints, unusual fatigue or changes in activity level, or developing a limp, there may be another issue – consult a doctor for a proper diagnosis. Joint pain may just be the result of an injury from play or sports, but if it occurs in the morning and is relieved by moving around, it may be a sign of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. These aches may not be a sign of a serious condition, but the should be examined by a doctor.