What are Growing Pains?

You’ve heard of growing pains, those mysterious aches and shooting pains kids seems to feel for no reason, especially at night. The good news is, they’re completely normal — and in many cases, are more the result of physical activity than actual growth.

Growing pains tend to crop up at two early childhood stages: once in the pre-school/kindergarten range, around 3 to 5, and again in the pre-teen years, between ages 8 and 12. At these points, kids may complain of aches and pains in their thighs, calves, and the back of the knees, often at night. Many people think this is because of a growth spurt — that their little bodies are growing faster than they can keep up; it’s a nice idea, but medicine doesn’t support it. It’s more likely that kids’ muscles, which are less developed and less tough than adults’, are strained during the day by physical activity.

Ideally, children spend a good amount of time running, jumping, and playing around, even outside of organized sports. But why do growing pains affect only between 25 and 40% of kids? Some experts think it’s more common in those with a lower tolerance for pain, and for some it may be partly psychological; it can also occur when kids start becoming more physically active than usual.

Kids will normally complain of these pains in the late afternoon or evening, having faded in the morning after a night of rest; growing pains also tend to come and go. They’re easily treated at home with a warm compress and light massage. Pains that are severe enough to affect their normal activity, however, or that last persistently over long periods, are not normal. If they have accompanying symptoms like bruising, swelling, tenderness, redness, or changes in skin condition like a rash, or with full-body symptoms like fatigue and weakness, see a doctor. Growing pains are also muscular, affecting the front of the thighs, the calves, the area behind the knees, so joint pain likely has a different cause.

Growing pains are, well, a normal part of growing up — you can soothe them at home unless your child is in severe, persistent pain.


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