Growing pains can be an uncomfortable part of childhood — but the good news is that they remain firmly in childhood.
Despite their name, there’s actually no medical evidence that growing pains are related to the growth process; rather, they’re more often linked to a low pain threshold in response to strained or overworked muscles and ligaments. The reason kids may complain of these aches or throbbing in their legs — usually the backs of the knees, the thighs, and the calves — is because rigorous physical activity like running, jumping, and climbing causes strain to their still-developing muscles. Kids also tend to be more active throughout the day than adults, which is one reason grown-ups don’t have the same issues.
Growing pains typically occur in kids who are around pre-school age (3 to 5), and often disappear until the late childhood, pre-teen years (9 to 12). They may come and go during these stages, lasting for a few days or months or at a time, but they don’t occur every day for long periods. Kids also, well, grow out of them, as their bodies develop and activity types and levels change.
Painful symptoms from other conditions can be confused with growing pains, so if you’re an adult or more mature teen who thinks they’re experiencing growing pains — or for kids in the right age range who exhibit some of the following sings — consult your doctor. Growing pains don’t affect the joints, and shouldn’t be severe enough to cause limping or difficulty getting around. Muscle weakness, fatigue, and loss of appetite, as well as visible swelling or redness, are also signs you should discuss with a medical professional.
As an adult, you may experience sports injuries or strain your muscles after physical activity, but you can’t attribute them to the discomfort of growing pains, which flare up at night and disappear by morning.