“Mommy, my legs hurt.” It’s a common complaint in children, but why do spry, energy-filled kids experience leg pain? Inaccurately labeled as “growing pains,” leg pain can be attributed to your child’s physically strenuous day. “This type of pain isn’t related to growth, but rather to your child’s level of activity,” explains physician assistant Jennifer Nunnelee, PA-C at Smithsburg Family Medical Center.
Who gets them?
According to Jennifer, about 10-20% of children experience “growing pains.” Pain typically crops up between the ages of three to five, and reappears from age eight to twelve, with girls reporting more growing pains than boys.
Commonly, a throbbing pain occurs in both legs, usually in the calf and upper thigh muscles and behind the knee. The pain tends to happen at night and can be severe enough to wake a child up, though the pain usually disappears in the morning. “Growing pains don’t occur at the joint: they usually occur in the leg muscles,” explains Jennifer. “You never have pain in the upper extremity without pain in the lower extremity, and pain occurs in both limbs.” If the pain occurs only in one leg, you should discuss the symptom with your pediatrician.
When to worry
Although most limb pain can be attributed to an athletic day, keep a close eye on several factors. A painful reaction to gentle touches, pain that interferes with your child’s activities and persistent pain should prompt a visit to the pediatrician. You should also be on the look out for pain early in the day, redness, tenderness and swelling in the joint area. Cautionary signs also include limping, overall weakness, fever and unusual tiredness. “‘Growing pains’ are intermittent. Most serious conditions typically cause persistent pain,” explains Jennifer.
Leg pain could be a sign of a stress fracture, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, bone infection, bone cancer, Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease, sickle cell anemia, leukemia or rickets. So, if your child has persistent pain or the symptoms listed above, see your pediatrician right away.
Help for tired legs
If your child complains of “growing pains,” pour on the love. Usually a gentle massage to the affected area does the trick, though you can also offer acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen and apply a heating pad.
So, are growing pains real?
Technically, no. But leg pain in growing children is real. If you are concerned about your child’s leg pains, don’t hesitate to call your pediatrician. If you don’t have a pediatrician, check out the listings in Healthline.
By: Anne Gill