What is Growing Pains?

Children occasionally complain legs or pain around the lower half of the legs during the night. These sore and painful sensation typically occur in children aged 3+ however, they may be different for all children, some will experience such pains and some will not.

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Overview

These are commonly described ‘growing pains’. There are a number of misunderstandings about growing pains, including that it is a sign of osteoarthritis or that it is caused by the growth plate.

What causes growing pains?

While growth plates can be injured, they are not the cause of growing pains, as the growth plate itself does not cause pain to a patient unless in rare and serious scenarios. Some of the possible scenarios for commonly understood growing pains include:

  • As the child grows and bones become longer, the muscles are unable to catch up and are stretched, causing an aching or pulling pain
  • Misalignment syndrome including leg length difference, pelvic rotation or scoliosis cause overuse and rotational problems that result in secondary stress pain
  • Pains occur mostly at night as there are fewer visual and sensory distractions around them, allowing them to focus on the pain that may have been previously suppressed or unnoticed
  • Overuse of the muscles during daytime activities such as running, jumping, and climbing
  • Medical conditions where the periosteum of the bone or even the growth plate become irritated or inflamed

Diagnosis

Your podiatrist can usually diagnose growing pains by taking a thorough history and further examining your child clinically and dynamically. Diagnostic ultrasound and x-rays can be used to evaluate growth plate concerns but are rarely required for such cases.

What are the possible solutions available?

As your child’s discomfort can be due to a number of varying causes, you should see a healthcare professional, especially if they are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Your child is having a fever and bone pain
  • Unusual rashes over the joints or knuckles
  • Pain that worsens after sports or activities
  • Pain that never subsides
  • Swelling or pain only in one leg or joint

Depending on the child’s diagnosis, approaches may include the use customised orthotics to correct underlying musculoskeletal issues as well as specialised interventions to address less visible conditions.

Caution and Appropriate Action:

  • Avoid treating discomfort with child aspirin, which can lead to serious complications.
  • Massaging or icing can provide relief, but persistent or worsening pain requires podiatric evaluation.
  • Do not dismiss complaints as mere "growing pains"; instead, address the underlying biomechanical and musculoskeletal factors causing discomfort.


Understanding and addressing children's discomfort involve careful consideration of various factors, and seeking professional guidance ensures appropriate intervention tailored to your child's specific needs.

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Common Symptoms

Pain occurs in the thigh, back of the knee, shin or calf
Usually occurs in the late afternoon or evening, sometimes at night

How It Looks Like

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A lower limb specialist, such as a podiatrist, will be able to perform a thorough foot assessment using diagnostic tools, such as a musculoskeletal diagnostic ultrasound to determine the source of your foot pain. If surgery is required, your podiatrist will refer you to a trusted foot and ankle doctor for surgical solutions.

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