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Growing pains in children

Updated on December 4, 2011

Growing pains

Universally ,children in their growing years typically complain of a characteristic pain in their legs at night during their growth spurts - known as the growing pains. Growing pains are noted to have the following typical characteristics:

  1. Occurs in children in the age group of 3 to 12 years. By teenage, most children have outgrown the pain. Some suggest that the condition peaks at two vulnerable age groups- among 3 to 5 year olds and 8 to 10 year olds.
  2. The pain appears in the late evening or more commonly at night, waking up the child.
  3. Pain may be mild but can be severe.
  4. Commonly felt in the shin, calf, thighs or sometimes behind the knee, almost never in the joint.
  5. An episode may last from a few minutes to a couple of hours.
  6. Child is totally pain free the following day- may be fatigued due to lack of sleep the previous night.
  7. The episodes are punctuated by pain free periods that may last from weeks to months.
  8. Growing pain is almost always bilateral affecting both legs.
  9. Pain is relieved by massaging, stretching or moist heat and pain killers like acetaminophen.

Despite the typical features, the cause of growing pain has not yet been found out. Current knowledge about the cause and course of the pain is largely based on experiences, as only very few studies are done on this topic.

Why do some kids get growing pains while others do not?

As already mentioned previously, the causes of growing pains are not very obvious. The proposed causes (according to studies by Dr.Yosef Uziel and Dr. Philip J Hashkes) are

  1. Low pain tolerance: Kids with growing pains exhibited a lower pain tolerance when compared to controls.
  2. Overuse: Kids who reported growing pains were overactive, when compared to other kids. Also parents note that when a kid has had an exhausting day, he is more likely to complain pain that night. It is not recommended to make such children to slow down so as to prevent growing pains, though.
  3. Bone strength density : Children suffering from growing pains are found to have a low bone strength density. This along with overuse and hyperactivity is likely to cause pain.
  4. Mechanical strain :Many children with growing pains are found to have flat foot with mild outward turning of back of foot. This could cause increased strain during activity leading on to pain.
  5. Although the quality of life is similar to other kids, it is suggested that family environment , stress and psychological disposition often can contribute to pain. Parents note that the kid is more likely to complain of pain, when he has been mentally upset.
  6. Other proposed causes are that the bone growth often slightly exceeds the muscle growth leading on to tightness of muscles and tendons. It has also been noted that the children with growing pains are slightly on the heavier range.

What is not growing pain?

It is very important not to miss any disease which also can present as leg pain. The following are the warning signs that clue you that the pain is not just a 'growing pain'.

  1. If the pain is persistent or occurs even during daytime.
  2. If the pain is increased on handling or movement. In growing pain, the child is comforted by massaging or patting his legs.
  3. If the pain is localised in a joint, other diagnosis such as childhood arthritis should be considered, as growing pains practically never affect joints.
  4. If the child develops a limp while walking.
  5. If the child runs a temperature, it may signal infection and will need a thorough check up and tests.
  6. If the child has or develops a rash.
  7. If the child develops pain in only one leg consistently or if there is a wound, bruise or redness.
  8. Limb weakness.

Under the above said situations, it is advisable to visit your paediatrician.Also visit your doctor, if you are getting stressed out about your child's complaint or if it starts affecting your quality of life.

What will the doctor do?

From their experience , most doctors can pick out 'growing pain' and will be able to reassure you and put your worrying mind to rest. If the doctor is not convinced about the nature of the pain or if there are other worrying symptoms, he may want to rule out other conditions like trauma, tumor, arthritis, infection etc. For this, he may order tests like x ray, bone scan, blood tests etc.

Can I prevent these pain episodes?

Nothing much could be done to prevent growing pains. Some parents say that they can prevent an episode by predicting it when the child is having a physically demanding day and by giving painkillers in advance.


A child crying with pain in the middle of the night can be very stressful for the parents and the child.
The child with mild pain can be comforted by helping him to stretch out his legs, gentle massaging and by applying moist heat, (along with plenty of cuddling of course).Children with more intense pain may be given painkillers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. (Do not give aspirin to children as it can cause a rare but potentially fatal condition called 'Reye's syndrome).


Growing pain is the most common pain disorder that presents to a paediatrician and it affects as much as 3 to 40% of children in their growing years.
Visit the paediatrician if you are worried about your child's pain. Know the warning signs.
Growing pains are part and parcel of childhood and sooner than you realise your clingy little child will turn in to a tall and shy teenager and the pain episodes will be a memory of the past.


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    • profile image

      mskin81 4 years ago

      my 9yr old son as had cramps on and off for yrs . he's about 5ft

    • profile image

      Ash 5 years ago

      my 5 year old is currently going through this. As a child I experienced it to be quite painful and my son does as well. its horrible to watch as i know his pain. he gets it every so often I didn't realise not everyone gets growing pain!

    • profile image

      evane 5 years ago

      To add on, she is not heavy weight, at age of six she is 18.8kg.

    • profile image

      evane 5 years ago

      I am doubt. My 6 y/o girl lately complaint her right shin "cold until pain", this happen not daily but on and off. Still not sure it is growing pain or not?

    • profile image

      Karen Logan 5 years ago

      I had shin pain around 6-7 years of age, but my sister didn't. Same thing with some of my friends and cousins. Now that we are adults, we recently noticed something interesting: the ones who had shin pain have a shorter lower leg (knee to foot) compared to the upper leg (thigh length) than those who had no shin pain.

      My mother also had shin pain and has a shorter lower leg.

      Could it be that "growing pain" is an indication that something is hindering growth?

      Maybe the blood circulation is not as good, or maybe some other less efficient physiological process is causing growth to be slowed, and hence the pain and shorter limb?

    • profile image

      Silvia A. 6 years ago

      Than you so much, my 10 year old has been complaining about her legs hurting a lot. I was concerned and thought there was something wrong but Im so thankful that it is most likely growing pains, She only gets it at night and once in a while not an everyday thing. This article REALLY helped me not to worry too much. Thanks again.

    • profile image

      Turan 6 years ago

      my 5 year old son has a similar pain only in one leg, he wakes up with crying but after a couple of minutes he sleeps and no clue during day time! this happens sometimes, say few days, then after some months it appears and goes within few days again! should I worry?

      Thanks for the great article above

    • profile image

      diva to be 6 years ago

      @misty vol:

      Does the child experience pain consistently in one leg? If so, it is NOT growing pain and he may need to be evaluated by a peadiatrician.

    • profile image

      misty voll 6 years ago

      Is it stil concidered growing pains if its only in one leg?

    • profile image

      Karriem scott 6 years ago

      My son is nine years old and experiencs terrible pain in his legs especially at nights and i was worried, but thanks to this aticle i no longer neeed to wonder is the situation is serious.

    • ChristinCordle12 profile image

      ChristinCordle12 6 years ago

      Interesting article.

    • profile image

      tanya 6 years ago

      My Son woke up last night screeming in pain. I knew it was just growing pains, he has been complaining for about a week now that his legs hurt even durin the day. But today I am a little worried because when I tried to wake him up he said he couldn't walk without obvious pain he was trembling while walking very slow and crying, so I put him back to bed and he has been sleeping ever since. I gave him a tylonal but it hasn't help with the pain and I am becoming more conserned that this more then just growing pains. It's difficult to determain because there are so many website and so much advice. I don't want to over react either but it hard to see your child in this much pain and just asume that it is only growing pains.

      Thanks for the info posted and I will keep you informed in regards to the outcome.

    • profile image

      amynoor 7 years ago

      thank you for this info.. was so scared for the last week. my son is 1 and half year old and every since last week on and off he would get up late at night screaming. if he is not crying then he is hitting both his legs on the bed evn while asleep. 'cause of this his sleep was not proper. really didn't know what to do.... \

      thanks once again for putting my mind to rest. now i know what to do.....

    • profile image

      young mom 7 years ago

      Thank u

      to make me feel better

    • profile image

      luvin_momma210 7 years ago

      My son is 1 and a half yrs old and he is experiencing growing pains too. At first I thought it could've been something worse because my son would just stop dead in his tracks, lay down on his back, lift his legs up and start pulling on both of his feet, all the while he's crying, and I didn't know what to do to make him feel better. I'm not going to lie I was scared, but after reading this, it put my mind at ease. Atleast now I know what to do when he does this. Thanks, this was very helpful.

    • profile image

      diva to be 7 years ago

      I appreciate your feedback Aparna. I am glad I helped you find the information you needed.

    • profile image

      aparna 7 years ago


      Thanks for your information on growing pain, i have 2 1/2 year old baby girl and she always complain pain in her legs at midnight or early morning. i was worried for her but after reading this information of urs I am relaxed now.

      Thanks a lot.

    • Write at Home profile image

      Write at Home 8 years ago

      Very informative hub. My mother said I experience a lot of growing pains when I was young, and I'm concerned that my son might have them as well. Thanks for providing this information, so I can better understand what they are.

    • profile image

      diva to be 8 years ago

      Thanks moo moo, I appreciate your feedback. Iam happy that you found the article informative and glad that it helped to put your worrying mind to rest.

    • profile image

      moo moo 8 years ago

      i have two kids. the elder is 9 yrs old yrs and had never been complain of growing pain ever. my girl is 6 yrs old now and she had been complaining legs bone pain for the past 6 months. only at night, espeially before sleeping time.this is the first time i'm encountering this and i'm surprised to know that it's so common in children! no fever or swelling on legs, no limping and she can still run about. and she's over-weight, now at 31kg..i'm so worry for the last 6 month, only until i read this information. thank you.

    • Beth100 profile image

      Beth100 8 years ago from Canada

      Very well written. My children have experienced growings too, however, I have found that these pains are about one week before a quick growth spurt. The last child grew one inch in one week!!


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