Growing pains are deep cramping or aching pains that most commonly occur in the shins, calves, thighs, or back of the knees. They most typically affect children ages 3 to 14. The discomfort usually happens late in the day or at night, and some children report symptoms awakening them at night. Growing pains usually alternate between both sides of the body. For a few young people, the pain is constant, while for others, it is sporadic. The pain episodes range from a few minutes to hours and usually go away by the next day. Their range of activities typically remain unrestricted.
What Causes Growing Pains?
The exact cause of growing pains is unknown but there are many thoughts such as increased activity or overuse causing muscle soreness. Pain in the joints brought on by excessive joint movement or flat feet. Low vitamin D levels result in weakened bone strength. Pain heightened by psychosocial stress. The pain is most likely caused by a combination of factors rather than a single underlying cause.
How Are Growing Pains Diagnosed?
Growing pains are diagnosed by symptoms. A child's physical exam may show hypermobility or flat feet, but it will be normal otherwise. There are no laboratory or imaging diagnostics for growing pains.
How Are Growing Pains Treated?
There is no specific treatment for growing pains. Supportive treatment for growing pains is individualized and based on helping your child manage the pain. The pain episodes typically resolve on their own by later childhood.
- Comforting your child during the episodes of pain
- Local massage of the affected areas
- Over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen
- Increasing physical activity through programs like physical therapy
- Physical therapy can also help with strength if your child has hypermobility
- Learning pain coping strategies through services like psychology or counseling
- Orthotics (shoe inserts) can help if your child has flat feet
Living with Growing Pains
Growing pains are not linked to any significant illness. There is no evidence to suggest that growing pains are linked to rapid growth or a growth spurt. If your kid exhibits any of the following symptoms, consult your doctor regarding further assessment for other conditions: constant and increasing pain, pain that lingers in the same spot, morning joint stiffness, swelling or redness over the afflicted areas, or limping.
Updated April 2023 by David Waldburg, MD, and reviewed by the American College of Rheumatology Communications and Marketing Committee.
This information is provided for general education only. Individuals should consult a qualified health care provider for professional medical advice, diagnosis and treatment of a medical or health condition.