When a child starts to complain of pains in the limbs, this is often dismissed as “growing pains”. But what exactly are growing pains? Dr. Amel Ginawi, Consultant Rheumatologist at Mediclinic explains.
Why do growing pains occur and how can we differentiate growing pains from other conditions that can cause muscle and joint pains in children. Most importantly how can we make the pain better and when should we take the child to see a doctor?
As the name suggests growing pains are thought to be due to the bones expanding while growing. But It is not yet clear whether this is the main cause of the pains as it is argued that bones grow at a slow rate and it this is usually painless. Some theories suggest that main cause of the pains is the overuse of muscles and not the bones.
It is a common complain and affects about 25 to 40% of children. It tends occurs between the ages of 3 and 12 years. Boys and girls almost equally effected although some researchers think that boys are slightly more affected than girls. There is a possibility that growing pains can run in families.
Growing pains occur more on days when there have been increased physical activities and strenuous exercises such as running climbing and jumping. These pains usually occur in the evening and at night and not at the time of the activity. It is important to know that these pains improve and completely disappear by the morning. The child typically complains of pains in the thighs, calves and behind knees and sometimes in the front of the legs. Growing pains are usually of a dull ache or throbbing nature that gets better with gentle massage. Although these pains mainly involve the legs and thighs but sometimes they may affect the arms if the child has done some strenuous activities involving the arms. The degree of the severity of the pain may differ from one child to another and sometimes the pains may be very severe causing the child to wake up at night or begin to cry.
Although growing pains are common, but it is important to remember that not all pains in children are due to growing pains. It is important to exclude other conditions and it may be necessary for the child to be seen and checked by a doctor in the presence of the following:
• Persistent pain
• Pain and stiffness in the morning.
• Pain is enough to interfere with normal activities
• History of trauma, redness and swelling.
• Joint pains, swelling and reduced movement of the joint.
• Fever, fatigue and tiredness
• Limping and weakness
There are certain measures that can help to relieve or reduce the intensity of the pains. These measures are simple but very effective. These include:
• Massaging the affected part of the body.
• Heat application for example the application of a warm (not too hot) pad in the area.
• A warm bath before bedtime helps.
• Advice and encourage your child to be participating in different activities and sports to be able to work different group of muscles.
Most importantly reassure the child that these pains will soon settle and get better; a hug or a warm cuddle might help.
Although medication is not necessary all the time but it might help especially in some nights when the pains are quite sever. Medications that can be used are paracetamol or ibuprofen.
It is important to remember that although growing pains can be troublesome but they do not lead to any permanent damage and do not affect the child growth and development. In fact they tend to improve and almost completely resolve in about one to two years time in the majority of cases. If they persist the pains tend to become of less intensity.