Growing pains are often described as an ache or throb in the legs — often in the front of the thighs, the calves or behind the knees. Growing pains tend to affect both legs and occur at night, and may even wake a child from sleep.
Although these pains are called growing pains, there's no evidence that growth hurts. Growing pains may be linked to a lowered pain threshold or, in some cases, to psychological issues.
There's no specific treatment for growing pains. You can make your child more comfortable by putting a warm heating pad on the sore muscles and massaging them.
Growing pains usually cause an aching or throbbing feeling in the legs. This pain often occurs in the front of the thighs, the calves or behind the knees. Usually both legs hurt. Some children may also experience abdominal pain or headaches during episodes of growing pains. The pain doesn't occur every day. It comes and goes.
Growing pains often strike in the late afternoon or early evening and disappear by morning. Sometimes the pain awakens a child in the middle of the night.
When to see a doctor
Consult your child's doctor if you're concerned about your child's leg pain or the pain is:
- Still present in the morning
- Severe enough to interfere with your child's normal activities
- Located in the joints
- Associated with an injury
- Accompanied by other signs or symptoms, such as swelling, redness, tenderness, fever, limping, rash, loss of appetite, weakness or fatigue
The cause of growing pains is unknown. But there's no evidence that a child's growth is painful.
Growing pains don't usually happen where growth is occurring or during times of rapid growth. It's been suggested that growing pains may be linked to restless legs syndrome. But muscle pain at night from overuse during the day is thought to be the most likely cause of growing pains. Overuse from activities such as running, climbing and jumping can be hard on a child's musculoskeletal system.
Growing pains are common in preschool and school-age children. They're slightly more common in girls than in boys. Running, climbing or jumping during the day might increase the risk of leg pain at night.
Aug. 19, 2016
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- Kliegman RM, et al. Musculoskeletal pain syndromes. In: Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier; 2016. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Aug. 3, 2016.
- Uziel Y, et al. Five-year outcome of children with "growing pains": Correlations with pain threshold. Journal of Pediatrics. 2010;156:838.