Practical Dad

PracticalDad and Growing Pains

It's the middle of the night and you're as sound asleep as a parent can be but you awaken to hear your kindergartener cry out.  The crying continues so you conclude that it's more than an isolated nightmare and you rise to check on him.  You enter the room and find him in tears, reaching down to grasp his leg.  Daddy, he says, it hurts.  You shake your head awake and proceed to try and figure out what's wrong.  There are no visible marks - no blood, no scrapes, scratches or cuts from loose items in the bed, and no scratches or marks from a family pet that crawled under the bedclothes and startled - and you wonder whether it could be simple growing pains.  But isn't that just an old wives' tale?

What are Growing Pains and are they real?

Yes, Dad, growing pains are indeed real and if your child is anywhere from preschool to upper-elementary age (3 - 12 years), then growing pains are a possibility.  Despite the moniker, physicians and researchers actually don't attribute the pain to growth at all; while there is no identifiable cause, the consensus is that the pain is emanating in muscles that have been heavily used through the course of the preceding day.

Growing pains typically occur in one or both legs and will start in the late evening or sometime during the night.  By morning, the pain is resolved and there'll be no reoccurrence through the coming day.  Because it's difficult to get a good description from any small child - and it's nigh impossible at 3:00 AM - you might conclude that it's akin to a cramp or deep muscle ache.  Growing pains have no skeletal or joint components and sometimes the pain is resolved by helping stretch out the limb or massaging it until it feels better.  If those actions don't help, applying heat and giving children's ibuprofen can help relieve the pain.

When should I consider another possible cause?

It's always helpful to keep a close eye on the frequency of occurrences.  You might want to make a quick note on the family calendar and follow this for a period to see if they're relatively isolated or happening with frequent regularity.  If the pain is occurring several times weekly, then you might consider consulting your family physician.  What else might cause you to see the doctor?

  • The pain occurs not only at night, but also during the day.
  • There are other objective findings, such as skin redness or areas that are warmer to the touch than others, inflammation or swelling.
  • Pain that's routinely isolated to only one spot instead.
  • Pain that's occurring in areas other than the legs.

In our case...

One of our children has had intermittent growing pain for years.  It's sporadic and only occurs in the feet and legs and even  happened last evening.  We were out later than usual to see another child's play and as we were leaving, the first started complaining of pain in his legs and feet.  He's learned to massage his own limbs and on arriving home, we gave him children's ibuprofen to alleviate the pain that would interfere with his sleep.

And as usual, there were no problems come this morning.

This article is for information purposes only and not meant as medical advice.  If you have concerns or questions, please contact your family physician or pediatrician.

For more information on Growing Pains, you can visit Probing Question: Are Children's Growing Pains Real? 

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