That kids experience growing pains is no myth. At times of growth (and kids do grow at uneven rates), to feel actual pain in the bones, muscles, and joints is quite common. Its prevalence is difficult to measure, but it is believed that as many as half of all children experience growing pains regularly. As grownups, we may not remember just how uncomfortable these pains can be, but they are significant enough to disrupt sleep, make it hard to focus in school, and cause irritability.
Growing pains can occur at any age, but they most often affect kids during periods of especially rapid growth, which are common between the ages of three and five and again between eight and 12. And of course, during growth spurts that may occur at other ages, growing pains are common.
It is believed that the pain is not actually caused by the growth of bones and muscles, but rather by the extra strain put on them by running and playing at times of rapid growth. In other words, the body is working hard to grow during these times, and combining this with intense physical activity is a recipe for soreness. And very often that soreness does not kick in until the end of the day or, even worse, late at night.
Growing pains usually take the form of soreness centered in the muscles, especially in the legs. Children suffering from these pains usually do not mind being touched and rubbed where the pains are centered. When an area of pain is sensitive to touch, this may mean something more serious is going on. Meanwhile, visible redness or swelling, either in the muscles or the joins, is also unlikely to be growing pains. In this case, see your child’s doctor if it does not go away.
What to do
Growing pains typically go away on their own, especially with a healthy dinner and a good night’s sleep. But because children are often understandably in a hurry to make the soreness go away, there are things parents can do, at least to provide a placebo effect. Try these pain-alleviation methods:
- Encourage your child to stretch out the sore muscles very thoroughly.
- Give your child a glass of milk, and inform him or her that the milk will make the pain go away. (There is little scientific backing for this, but your child will find it comforting. And, anecdotally, many parents find milk does help alleviate kids’ soreness.)
- Gently massage the sore area, or have your child self-massage.
- If your child is old enough, provide an over-the-counter pain reliever. For children under twelve, talk to your pediatrician about what painkiller, if any, is best.
- Hold a heating pad to the sore area for fifteen minutes.
Meanwhile, because growing pains are not serious, many children just want parental reassurance in these moments. Do not dismiss your child’s pains or accuse him or her of faking them. Provide support, and make sure your child knows the pain will pass shortly.
Of course, pain and soreness are often signs of more serious issues than growing pains. If any of the following symptoms occur and last longer than a day, contact your pediatrician.
- Pain that hinders movement or causes limping
- Pain early in the day, even after the child has had a good night’s sleep
- Redness or swelling in the area of the pain
- Unexplained rashes
- General weakness or fatigue
- Strange behavior
These symptoms are not typically associated with growing pains and may be cause for alarm.
By Lisa Pecos