Growing Pains in Kids

Approximately 40% of today’s adolescent population are active daily and participating in sports and recreational activities. Being active often means being healthy, so why are growing pains so often experienced? The term “growing pains” (GP) is used often to describe persistent discomfort in children with an unexplained origin. Research has shown no link between growing pains and growth spurts in adolescents and health care providers often have to determine the reason for the patient’s symptoms.

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Possible theories on the culprit of growing pains

● Anatomic – joint laxity and joint alignment causing deviations in the way a child walks

● Fatigue – with increased levels of activity, children experience growing pains

○ Often confirmed when children report increased pain on day of greater activity

● Psychological – psychological stress may lead to sensory pain

○ Research has shown those children who report GP are often described as anxious, being more intense and having behavior problems

In order to determine the ‘origin’ of a child’s GP, a visit with a pediatrician or sports medicine specialist is recommended. With a thorough report of location, sensation, activity level, intensity and frequency of pain; a health care provider can recommend the best plan of care for each child.

When to seek treatment

● GP often reports as a bilateral condition (approximately 80-90% of patients)

● Pain is intermittent and may occur at night time

● GP should not occur during activity

● Pain that occurs in the morning or which increases with activity could be a musculoskeletal condition such as “overuse/repetitive injury”

Growing pains or Not

● A thorough examination and family history will be taken

● If symptoms are not of musculoskeletal dysfunction, further testing and imaging may be done

Treatment

● Analgesics – ibuprofen or acetaminophen

● Physical therapy – if a musculoskeletal dysfunction “overuse syndrome” and not GP

○ If GP, some research has shown stretching can help alleviate pain

● Massage – parents can massage area and even provide light heat

● Foot orthotics – supported for those with deviations in foot alignment

In summary, GP maybe a result of a musculoskeletal dysfunction which can be treated with anti-inflammatory medication along with physical therapy to address the muscle weakness. If symptoms persist and do not appear to be musculoskeletal, further evaluation will be completed to examine the various causes of growing pains.
Seeking medical advice is the best recommendation to unveil the cause of GP!

Reference- Growing Pains: When to Be Concerned. Patrick j. Lehman, MD, and Rebecca L.

Carl, MD. FAAP. Apr. 2017. Sports Health Journal.

Written by: Mary Kate Casey, DPT