For many parents, it’s a familiar problem: children complaining, sometimes even waking up crying at night, because their lower limbs ache. Growing pains are an unpleasant, though normal, part of childhood. Their name is misleading, however. These aches are more similar to regular cramps than issues brought on by rapid growth.
Not Actually Related to Growth Spurts
Growing pains were originally believed to be caused by rapid growth in the lower limbs. Research, however, hasn’t found any clear link between growing rates and the aches that can be uncomfortable enough to wake children up at night. The ages they are most prevalent, between three to twelve or thirteen, are usually among the slowest for childhood growth. The condition isn’t well understood, but it does seem to be connected to muscle wear and cramping. Foot structure or biomechanical issues may contribute to the problem.
It’s most common in active, healthy children or those with loose or hypermobile joints. The condition tends to run in families as well, so if you or your spouse struggled with it as a child, your own children are more likely to have it. Typically the discomfort is a sharp, intense, pain that affects both legs—though not necessarily at the same time. It’s most common in the shins, calves, and ankles, though some children develop it in the thighs as well. The problem strikes in the late afternoon, evening, or even the middle of the night, and is resolved by morning. In some cases, the discomfort follows a pattern. Then you can actually predict what activities will fatigue the lower limbs and cause an uncomfortable night. Children usually outgrow this condition over time.
When the Problem Isn’t Growing Pains
Sometimes the aches in your child’s legs are actually something more serious. Childhood arthritis, leukemia, chronic rheumatic disease, and other severe conditions are hard to diagnose and share some similar symptoms with the benign leg cramps. If your child has severe discomfort in just one leg, joint swelling, a fever, loss of appetite, a limp, or pain in the morning, it may be a more serious problem and should be investigated promptly.
Living with Children’s Aching Limbs
Dr. Sanjay Patel, a children’s lower limb care specialist, can examine your son or daughter to identify growing pains and rule out other possible causes. Our staff will use a variety of tests to determine what factors may have contributed to the problem. Then we can help you take care of your child’s discomfort.
When the problem strikes, massage the painful areas on your child’s legs and ankles. Using heat packs to relax any tightness or cramping in the tissues may help as well. We may recommend child-safe pain medication to relieve symptoms. Have your child stretch his or her feet and lower legs in the evening before bed, especially if he or she is frequently active. This may help prevent cramping at night.
You may need to adjust his or her shoes, too, particularly if your child has flat feet. An inefficient foot structure, like flat arches, may allow the lower limbs to fatigue easily and cramp later. Supportive shoes help the lower limbs absorb shock better and avoid exhausting the muscles.
Growing pains are a common childhood affliction and a real source of discomfort for those who suffer from them. While your child will outgrow the problem eventually, there are things you can do to help relieve their distress now. Let Family Foot Care & Surgery, L.L.C. know if you’re concerned about your son or daughter’s lower limbs. Call either office or send us an online request to make an appointment: call (203) 876-7736 for the Milford office, or (203) 288-4055 for the Hamden location.