It’s one of those myths that’s easy to believe because it sounds so logical. For years, parents were told that children experienced growing pains because their bones were growing too quickly. It turns out that’s not really the case, but the symptoms are real.
Children do wake up in the middle of the night with muscle cramps and aches in their legs, but the cause is most likely to be overuse injuries. After a long day of running and climbing, soreness sets in as the muscles start to relax.
About 40% of children are affected, usually when they’re about 3 to 4 years old or 8 to 12 years old.
Growing pains rarely cause any serious damage. However, they can be unpleasant to live with and it’s important to receive proper medical care in order to rule out other conditions.
Use this parent’s guide to help your child through this stage of life.
Providing Relief for Growing Pains
Growing pains can be intense and usually last for a half hour or less. There are several methods of safe and effective relief that you can try at home.
Try these strategies:
- See your doctor. A physician can confirm whether your child has growing pains or a different physical condition. True growing pains will affect both legs and won’t be accompanied by other symptoms like fever and limping.
- Massage the area. Gently rubbing the limbs may help. Do it before bedtime or when your child says they’re sore. As a bonus, massage also helps to relieve stress.
- Stretch out. Teach your child simple stretches they can do to cool down after workouts or playtime. Good choices include child’s pose and lunges.
- Apply heat. Buy a heat pack or make your own by briefly microwaving a partially closed zip lock bag with a damp towel inside. Place it on the sore area for up to 30 minutes and check your child’s skin each 15 minutes to be sure it’s not too hot.
- Draw a bath. Taking a warm bath before bed feels great and has many benefits. In addition to relaxing muscles, it can make it easier to fall asleep.
- Take a pain reliever. If your doctor approves, you may want to give your child an over-the-counter pain reliever. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen are usually safer than aspirin, which can cause Reye’s syndrome in children.
Preventing Overuse Injuries
Strenuous activity can cause discomfort for anybody, but some children are especially vulnerable. See what you can do to prevent overuse injuries.
These activities will help prevent injuries:
- Build bone strength. If you child has weak bones and flat feet, they may be more prone to growing pains. Ask your doctor about age-appropriate strength training and supportive footwear that may help.
- Mix it up. Children who specialize in a single sport may also have higher risk. Encourage your child to enjoy a variety of physical activities and keep it fun.
- Take breaks. Adequate rest and relaxation help to prevent injuries and burnout. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that young athletes take off at least one day a week from any organized activity.
- Use proper form. Ensure your child learns the correct techniques for their favorite sports. Coaches and trainers can teach them the importance of body alignment, as well as using appropriate safety gear and equipment.
Growing pains are a common experience, but you can help your child to stay comfortable and strong. Encourage your child to engage in a wide range of fun physical activities and talk with your doctor about any individual concerns.