What are growing pains? Pediatricians explain

Growing pains can keep some children up at night. But what causes them? (Photo: Getty)

Growing pains can keep some children up at night. But what causes them? (Photo: Getty)

Growing pains are a common part of childhood, but sometimes they can be stressful for kids—and their parents.

One is Chad Montgomery, whose 6-year-old son has been suffering from the pain lately. “He’s very sensitive to things that he doesn’t understand with his body,” Montgomery told Yahoo Life. “Growing pains were scary for him when he doesn’t understand why his legs suddenly started hurting.”

Veronica Thompson tells Yahoo Life that her 4-year-old daughter “has always complained about the pain in her shins below her knees.” But, she says, “it got to a point where she didn’t want to walk anymore because of this pain.” Thompson eventually took her to the pediatrician, who recommended warm compresses, which she said helped.

His co-parent Mark Joseph tells Yahoo Life that his 5-year-old daughter has suffered from growing pains since she was 3, which has been “quite challenging” for the family. “She wakes up in the middle of the night crying in pain,” he says. “Sometimes she couldn’t express what she was feeling because it was too much to bear. As a parent, it was incredibly distressing to see her suffer.”

Kris McCormick tells Yahoo Life her 3-year-old is also dealing with severe growing pains. “He woke up in the middle of the night screaming and clutching his legs in pain,” she says. McCormick says the experience “scared both of us” until she learned how to help her son manage the pain.

An estimate 50% of children experience growing pains at some point. But despite its frequency, there are many mysteries surrounding this health condition. Here’s what you need to know about growing pains and how you can help your child find relief.

What exactly are growing pains?

“Growing pains” is a term used to describe leg pain and aches that occur in children, typically at night, dr Danielle Fisher, a pediatrician and chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John Health Center in Santa Monica, California, told Yahoo Life. The condition usually occurs between the ages of 3 and 12 years Nemours.

“It usually happens in healthy kids, and they usually complain in the evening or it wakes them up from sleep,” says Fisher. Symptoms can include pain, usually in the lower leg, and it can be felt behind the knee, according to Fisher.

Why do children seem to get these at night? It may simply be that they’re more distracted during the day and then don’t notice them as much, says Dr. Gary Reschak, pediatrician at Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital, told Yahoo Life. In addition, Fisher points out growth hormone released when children are asleep. “You grow when you sleep,” says Fisher. “The bones are just more active at night.” That overnight growth, she explains, could increase your risk of growing pains.

Experts offer tips to relieve aching legs. (Photo: Getty)

Experts offer tips to relieve aching legs. (Photo: Getty)

There are many mysteries surrounding growing pains, even in the medical community

Overall, the cause of the growing pains is “unknown,” says Reschak. “Some studies suggest that there may be an association with limb overuse, but there is no consensus,” he adds.

Fisher agrees. “The studies just aren’t very conclusive,” she says. However, she points out that “everyone has different pain thresholds,” and that may play a role in why some children experience this pain more than others.

How to help your child with growing pains

Growing pains tend to come in waves, Reschak says. “There will be periods where they come almost every night, followed by months without pain,” he shares. “It can take years for the pain to finally go away and never come back.”

If your child is unwell, Reschak says, you can give them over-the-counter ibuprofen or acetaminophen. “Gently massaging the area has been helpful,” he says, noting that there’s “no reason” for your child to rest or rest when they’re having growing pains.

Fisher says she usually recommends her patients take ibuprofen because it has some anti-inflammatory mechanisms, along with applying a heating pad to the area.

When Should You Call the Doctor for Growing Pains?

If your child appears otherwise healthy but has occasional pain, Fisher says you should be fine to treat their discomfort at home with heat and ibuprofen. “Every child can have a one-off pain every now and then,” she says. But if the pain is persistent or really bothers your child, she suggests calling your pediatrician. “We just want to make sure we’re not overlooking other causes of the pain,” she says.

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