Growing Pains: Are They Real?


In pediatrics, “growing pains” are a common diagnosis for complaints of non-specific aches and pains. Despite how common “growing pains” are, the medical community has not discovered the cause. What science has taught us, however, is that the pain is real, and the majority of the time “growing pains” do not indicate something ominous. Contrary to the age-old name, growing pains are not actually a result of growth. Even at the peak of a growth spurt, the rate of bone growth is still too slow to cause significant pain. One theory is that the aches are caused by overwork during exercise or playtime.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that approximately 10 percent of healthy children complain of intermittent pains during childhood, and many times those complaints center around pain in the calf or thigh muscles, usually on both sides of the body. These pains tend to last for 10 to 30 minutes and are more common around bedtime or after a few hours of sleep because that is when all of the fun distractions are gone and the aches and pains become more obvious.

To help lessen a child’s aches and pains, try to have your child take periodic breaks during vigorous play or exercise. Encourage a variety of sports and activities in order to not overwork the same muscle groups. Before bed, a warm bath helps to relax muscle tension. If your child complains of “growing pains,” gently massage the painful areas and try a dose of Children’s Tylenol or Motrin. If you think there may have been an injury, try “RICE” (rest, ice, compression and elevation) therapy.

If your child shows signs of severe pain, has a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher, is limping for more than 24 hours or has swelling for more than 24 hours despite “RICE” therapy, call your physician. Other reasons to call the doctor, include when a muscle or bone looks or feels abnormal; skin is red, warm, tender, or oozing; urine is dark or looks like cola or tea; and if a child is having night sweats, weight loss, fever for more than five days or increased sleepiness.

Dr. Rachael Fournet is a pediatric resident at Levine Children’s Hospital of Carolinas HealthCare System, and Dr. Shivani Mehta is a board-certified pediatrician at CHS Myers Park Pediatrics.