Growing pains

What are growing pains?
Growing pains are a well recognised clinical syndrome typically characterised by aches and pains in both of the lower limbs (calves, shins and ankles). This can be distressing for both the child, and as a consequence of the sleep disturbances, for the family. Growing pains can occur regularly, starting in the late afternoon, early evening or during the night (when the pains can seem to be very severe, waking the child from sleep). The pains are often relieved with massage or simple analgesics such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. These pains don’t tend to be present first thing in the morning.

Why do they happen?
Whilst we refer to these pains as “Growing pains”, there is very little evidence that they are actually related to growth; they do not tend to be localised to areas of growth, or even related to peak periods of growth. For this reason, this pain syndrome is also referred to as “benign idiopathic nocturnal limb pains of childhood”. They have been linked to lower pain thresholds, and also psychological issues. There does appear to be a relation to overactivity of the limbs with running, jumping and climbing during the day.

What tests are needed?
There is no specific test for growing pains. The nature of the symptoms, together with a normal examination of the child, is used to make the diagnosis. We will sometimes perform blood tests or x-ray investigations to exclude other possible causes for the symptoms, especially in atypical cases. Keeping a diary to compare levels of physical activity with episodes of pain may help to identify a pattern.

How do we treat growing pains?
Firstly, it is important to remember that growing pains do not cause any long-term damage to children or their limbs. Furthermore, they do not affect the growth of a child. Growing pains often settle on their own in a year or two, and usually become less painful with time.

The following can help with growing pains:
  • Massage of the limbs before bed or during the attack
  • A simple hug or cuddle can be very helpful
  • Simple pain killers (e.g. paracetamol) to help settle an attack; consider giving this pre-emptively if your child has been very active during the day
  • Stretching of muscles during the day may help prevent pain at night

Further information
An excellent information leaflet is available from the Arthritis Research UK website. To download it, click on this link: