Growing Pains in Children: 7 Things to Know

  • Fun times at recess
    How to Help Your Child With This Painful and Mysterious Condition
    Growing pains are the most common cause of limb pain in children, yet doctors aren't sure why these pains occur.  Up to 40% of children experience such pains at some point. They usually aren't serious and will go away on their own by the time children reach adolescence. However, since they often occur during the night, they can result in your child being tired during the day. Doctors recommend several at-home remedies to help you get your children through this common childhood complaint.

  • little boy with calf pain, holding leg
    1. Doctors don't understand why children get growing pains.
    Growing pains were first described in 1823 by a French physician, Dr. Marcel Duchamp, and are known as "benign nocturnal limb pains of childhood." Doctors have theories about why children get these pains, but there's not a consensus. Ideas include: a genetic susceptibility; a lower pain threshold (children with them also tend to have more stomachaches and headaches); psychological factors; and reduced bone strength. Some children get them after excess physical activity. Children with flat feet or who are extremely flexible are more likely to have growing pains.

  • nurse measuring height of young girl
    2. Growing pains aren't associated with children actually growing.
    In the 1930s and 1940s, when growing pains were named, researchers thought they were caused by bones growing faster than the tendons that surrounded them. The theory was that the growing bones would push against the tendons, causing pain. However, doctors now know this is not true. Growing pains don't happen during rapid growth stages, and don't necessarily occur at growth sites on the body. Though growth pains don't appear to have anything to do with growing, the name has stuck.

  • specialist massaging or examining girl's foot
    3. Girls may experience more growing pains than boys.
    Some research shows that girls are slightly more likely than boys to get growing pains. Other researchers say girls and boys are about equally as likely to have these common pains. Altogether, about 25 to 40% of children experience growing pains. They can occur from ages 2 through 12. However, two age ranges are most known for growing pains: between ages 3 and 5 and again between 8 and 12. Symptoms of growing pains in toddlers are the same as in older children. Growing pains typically disappear by the time your child enters his or her teenage years.

  • doctor checking knee reflexes of boy at orthopedic clinic
    4. Growing pains usually occur on both sides of the body.
    Most often, growing pains occur in the legs—specifically, in the thighs, calves, shins, ankles and in the area behind the knees. Typically, both legs are affected, though sometimes it is just one. Some children also experience pains in their arms. As with leg pain, arm pain most often happens in both arms, though sometimes just one arm is affected. Usually children with arm pain also have leg pain. Growing pains can range from mild to very severe, typically lasting 5 to 30 minutes. However, some children experience pain for a few hours.

  • girl woken up by aching feet and ankles
    5. Mornings usually offer respite from growing pains.
    Children most often complain of growing pains in the late afternoon, evening or during the night, when the sharp, throbbing or cramping pains can wake them from sleep. When morning comes, children usually are fine, with no residual stiffness or pain. Some children get growing pains symptoms like this every day. For others, it is more sporadic, with episodes occurring intermittently. Periods of growing pains can continue off and on for months and even years.

  • smiling young boy getting back massage
    6. Growing pains can be treated at home.
    Doctors recommend the following treatments: massaging the sore areas in the arms or legs, including stretching the muscles; using heating pads (but not set too hot); and giving pain-relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen (never aspirin, which can cause Reye syndrome in children). If your child's pains are infrequent, you might hold off on pain relievers, since the pain is likely to pass before medications take effect. But if your child tends to wake during the night with growing pains, your doctor may recommend you give these medications before sleep.

  • little girl holding knee in pain
    7. Watch for associated symptoms that could signal illness.
    If the following symptoms occur along with growing pains, notify your child's doctor: fever, swelling in the joints, changes in appetite, changes in activity level, difficulty walking, limpness or weakness, pain in the morning or long-lasting pain, and unusual behavior. These could be signs of illness. If there has been an injury in the area where growing pains are occurring, also watch for a rash or redness, which could signal infection.

Growing Pains in Children & Toddlers: 7 Things to Know

About The Author

Lorna Collier has been reporting on health topics—especially mental health and women’s health—as well as technology and education for more than 25 years. Her work has appeared in the AARP Bulletin, Chicago Tribune, U.S. News, CNN.com, the APA’s Monitor on Psychology, and many others. She’s a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Association of Health Care Journalists.
  1. Growing Pains. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/13019-growing-pains
  2. What Causes Growing Pains in Your Child's Arms or Legs? Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-causes-growing-pains-in-your-childs-arms-or-legs/
  3. Growing Pains. KidsHealth (from Nemours). https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/growing-pains.html
  4. Pavone, V., Vescio, A., Valenti, F., et al. Growing pains: What do we know about etiology? A systematic review. World Journal of Orthopedics. 2019 April 18; 10(4): 192-205. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6475815/
  5. Growing Pains. Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. https://www.luriechildrens.org/en/specialties-conditions/growing-pains/
  6. Growing Pains. Family Doctor (American Academy of Family Physicians). https://familydoctor.org/condition/growing-pains/
  7. Growing pains. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/growing-pains/symptoms-causes/syc-20354349


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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Jun 10
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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