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Child Health A-Z: Growing Pains

If your little one is waking in the night and complaining of sore, achey legs, it could be a sign he has growing pains

What are growing pains?

Despite the name, they’re not necessarily a symptom of your child growing. ‘It just happens that the pains can occur during an age bracket when children tend to do a lot of growing,’ says Dr Dr Rahul Chodhari, a Consultant Paediatrician at the Royal Free London and spokesperson for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. ‘Your child may start experiencing pains between the ages of three and 12.’

Nobody actually knows for certain what causes growing pains. ‘It seems to be more common in children with hypermobile joints,’ says Dr Chodhari. ‘This is when your arm and knee joints can bend beyond the normal range of movement (about 180o).’

What are the symptoms of growing pains?

Your child will feel an achey, cramp feeling in both of his calves, shins and sometimes his thighs. ‘It usually occurs in the evening or at night and tends to happen more if your child has a particularly active day,’ says Dr Chodhari.

In fact, while doctors recognise growing pains as an actual medical condition, they prefer to call them ‘recurrent nocturnal limb pain in children’ – nope not quite as catchy – because they’re not really linked to growing and tend to affect children at night.

Your little one may experience a couple of evenings of pains and then they’ll disappear, only to return a few months later.

How can you treat them?

The best treatment is infant or child-appropriate paracetamol or ibuprofen to ease the pain.

‘If your child is particularly prone to growing pains, you may want to give him some painkillers before he goes to sleep so he’s less likely to wake in the night,’ says Dr Chodhari.

If he’s suffering regularly and you’d prefer not to dose him up, massaging your child’s muscles and joints or applying a warm hot water bottle to his legs may also help to ease pain.

When should you see your GP?

While growing pains are uncomfortable, they don’t cause long-term harm. ‘However, you should see a doctor if your child always has pain in the same leg, or the pain is also affecting his arms or back,’ says Dr Chodhari. ‘Swollen joints, a fever, limp, reluctance to walk, loss of appetite and when the pain continues during the day are all symptoms that mean you should take your child to a doctor.’

Your GP will want to rule out other illnesses, such as arthritis, vitamin D deficiency (rickets) or even leukaemia if your child seems unwell, and may refer your child to hospital for further assessment.

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