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Ach! Growing Pains

February 2, 2012

We thought we were golden with our 3.5 year old’s sleep pattern: um, yeah, right! We have had lots of middle-of-the-night wakeups from nightmares and now- growing pains. When our son wails from the pain, I get it. I had them too.  But, what I don’t get is what they are and how to help him.

According to KidsHealth, growing pains usually happen when kids are between the ages of 3 and 5 or 8 and 12. Doctors don’t believe that growing actually causes pain, but growing pains stop when kids stop growing. By the teen years, most kids don’t get growing pains anymore.

What are the symptoms?
Most of the time they hurt in the front of the thighs (the upper part of your legs), in the calves (the back part of your legs below your knees), or behind the knees. Usually, both legs hurt.  Growing pains often start to ache right before bedtime. Sometimes a child can go to bed without any pain, but then might wake up in the middle of the night with their legs hurting. The best news about growing pains is that they go away by morning. MayoClinic reports that some children may also experience abdominal pain or headache during episodes of growing pains. Dr. Greene cautions that if the growing pains occur during the day, or there is limping, redness or any other complaints, you should see your pediatrician.

What causes growing pains?
Kidshealth reports that
growing pains don’t hurt around the bones or joints (the flexible parts that connect bones and let them move) — only in the muscles. For this reason, some doctors believe that kids might get growing pains because they’ve tired out their muscles. When you run, climb, or jump a lot during the day, you might have aches and pains in your legs at night. Dr. Greene says the muscles or tendons are still a little too tight for the growing long bones. Muscle spasms lasting from 1 to 15 minutes cause the pain. Many of these children are unable to touch their toes with their fingertips without bending their knees.

How can you help with the pain?
suggests an over-the-counter pain medicine like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Kids should not take aspirin because it can cause a rare but serious illness called Reye syndrome.

There are three other things that might help you feel better:

  1. placing a heating pad on the spot where their legs hurt
  2. stretching their legs or having the child stretch like you do in a gym class
  3. massage their legs

Dr. Greene suggests that during a pain episode, stretching the foot and toes upward will often resolve the muscle spasm. Gentle massage and moist heat over the painful spot can also help. In most cases the pain can be prevented with simple, daily stretching exercises. These exercises must be continued even after the pain subsides in order to keep the muscles and tendons relaxed and able to accommodate the next growth spurt. Some physicians recommend giving a glass of tonic water before bed. Though he has never seen any studies evaluating this suggestion, he does say that plenty of fluids should make cramping less likely.