Growing pains are one of the most common childhood musculoskeletal conditions, causing countless visits to health care professionals. Growing pains are an aching or throbbing that can be felt in both legs, especially in the front of the thighs, calves or behind the knees.

Children as young as 3 to as old as 12 can be affected. The pain is usually felt in the late afternoon, evening or during bedtime. Some children may wake up during their sleep because the pains can be too uncomfortable. Although these symptoms are referred to as “growing pains,” there is no actual evidence that growing is painful.

There is no known scientific cause for growing pains, but doctors speculate that they may be caused by overusing muscles throughout the day from running, climbing and jumping – activities that can be hard on a child’s musculoskeletal system.

Children are more likely to experience growing pains after a full day of physical activity. These pains can last for months, but some also experience them for years. The pains come and go, and eventually children outgrow the pains within a few years.

Treatment for growing pain depends on how much pain your child is experiencing. Tips to help ease discomfort or help prevent your child from experiencing growing pains:

  • Massage the legs gently. This will help alleviate tense muscles. However, some children would rather be held or cuddled.
  • Place a warm cloth or heating pad on sore legs. Heat helps soothe sore muscles. Put a heating pad on a low setting or a warm cloth on your child’s legs before bedtime and remove once your child falls asleep. Taking a warm bath before bedtime also can help.
  • Stretch leg muscles. Stretching leg muscles during the day can help prevent pain at night. See your doctor to learn some stretching exercises that can help.
  • Take a pain reliever. If growing pains are severe, consult your doctor about giving your child over-the-counter medication, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or child ibuprofen (Advil®, Children’s Motrin®). Do NOT give your child aspirin, due to the risk of Reye’s syndrome – a rare but serious condition that causes swelling in the liver and brain.

Additional symptoms combined with the symptoms of growing pains can be a sign of a serious problem. Consult your pediatrician if your child’s pain is:

  • Persistent
  • Only on one leg
  • Present in the morning
  • Severe enough to interfere with your child’s normal activities
  • Located in the joints (Observe if your child notions that pain is in the hips, knees
  • and/or ankles)
  • Associated with an injury
  • Accompanied by other symptoms, such as swelling, redness, tenderness, fever, limping, rash, loss of appetite, weakness or fatigue

Most children who experience growing pains won’t need to see a doctor. However, if the pain is persistent or accompanied by other symptoms, you may want to bring it to the attention of your family physician.