You may have been awakened in the night by your 5-year-old child crying from the pain in her legs that seems to have appeared out of nowhere. This condition, usually referred to as “growing pains” (despite having nothing much to do with the growth process), is relatively common.
Growing pains normally appear in approximately 25% to 45% of children, both boys and girls, and usually show up within two age ranges: between 3 and 5, and between 8 and 12. Though it is such a common condition, surprisingly little is known about what it really is and what causes it.
There is no evidence that growing bones cause growing pains. The bones and joints are generally not the reported source of the pain, but rather the muscles of the legs (and sometimes the arms). Most children report feeling pain that originates in front of their thighs, in their calves, and sometimes behind their knees. There are no outward signs of inflammation, such as warm, red, swollen and tender joints, but the pain can range from mild to excruciating.
One theory is that the pain is due to the normal active running and jumping that most children do every day. Symptoms most often show up in the late afternoon or just before bed, when sore and tired muscles may begin to make themselves known. Sometimes the pain will even wake the child from sleep, though the pain is normally gone by morning. Poor posture and emotional upset have also been linked with some cases of growing pains, but this is not the case in all children.
There is no particular cure for growing pains, and children with the condition may experience it on and off for a few years. There are, however, a few things you can do to help ease the pain. Massaging the child’s legs and getting them to do some stretches has been shown to be effective. A warm bath or heating pad also helps to relax sore muscles, and if the pain is bad you can try a dose of acetaminophen. By the time your child reaches his or her teenage years, the growing pains should vanish naturally.
As pain in the legs may be caused by other conditions, such as arthritis or an infection, if your child has a limp, fever, swelling, or is not able to walk and play normally, you should take him or her to a doctor to rule out other possible causes.