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Growing pains

This resource is intended to provide you with information about growing pains.

What are growing pains?

Growing pains are pains, discomfort or aches that your child may complain of which occur mainly in the legs at night. They are mostly seen in children of the primary school age group. They are very common and can be distressing for the entire family.

What causes growing pains?

The exact cause is unknown, but is debated to be as a result of your child’s growth rate, joint flexibility and activity levels. Aches and discomfort may arise at night from normal jumping, climbing and running activities completed during the day which can cause soreness. It is worthwhile noting that:

  • your child is otherwise perfectly healthy
  • there are no reported links to risk of developing conditions such as arthritis
  • most growing pains settle with time (often months)

What are the possible symptoms of growing pains?

Your child may complain of pains just before going to bed (usually in the evening), and may wake up after some hours with pain in the legs usually located around the ankles, shins or knees. It tends to affect both legs at the same time and can less commonly affect the arms. Despite their sleep being disrupted by the pain, your child will wake up being pain free and is able to continue normal activities.

These symptoms can happen several times a week. Your child should continue to attend school and walk as far as is usually expected. If there are signs of limping, fever, weight loss, joint swelling, physical injury or infection then you should take your child to see their GP as soon as possible, or attend A and E if more urgent or out of hours.

How are growing pains diagnosed?

A diagnosis is generally made following a consultation with your rheumatology consultant.

We normally take your child’s medical history, and complete a physical examination and exclusion of other conditions. We try to make sure that a specialist nurse, physiotherapist or occupational therapist are present during this appointment are seen at a later date. Your child may require an X-ray and blood tests, though these are not always needed. Your child will usually be discharged from clinic, back to the care of your GP.

How are growing pains best managed?

Your child will usually be discharged from clinic and may not require input from other healthcare professionals. Most growing pains settle completely with time, which can take months. Normal childhood activities will not do any damage to your child’s legs or arms.

You may find it helpful to
  • reassure your child that the pains are not serious but that you do understand what they are experiencing
  • keep a diary of when the pain occurs so that you can see if a particular activity brings the pain on more than others, and then either modify this activity or inform your doctor
  • check that your child’s footwear is supportive and well fitting, including the firm fastening of shoelaces or Velcro straps
  • try preventative painkillers on the nights that you predict (from the diary) may be worst – make sure that you discuss this with your doctor, and use sugar-free medications to prevent teeth decay
  • try massaging the muscles and joints when your child is complaining of pain.

Contact us

Rheumatology Team
0114 271 7786

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

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