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Quick reference medical handouts used by Pediatric offices

Growing Pains are a Genuine Ailment

Growing pains are a family common occurrence in a pediatric population. These discomforts are all too familiar to the concerned mother or father who has awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of a crying child. Rushing to the bedside, the parent finds the child holding their leg in obvious pain. Remarkably, a gentle massage, some hugs, and a few words of reassurance are all that is needed to soothe the pain. The recovery is usually complete by dawn, and the parents are frequently astounded by the sight of their healthy child bouncing out the door at full speed, pain free, to catch the school bus.

Medical science has been unable to explain the exact cause of this malady. Although there is no firm evidence to indicate that growing bones cause pain, growth discomfort affects about 20% of all children during the period of extremely rapid bone build up. While the basis of the aches is still unknown, the pain that children experience is very real, causing discomfort for children and sleepless nights and worry for their parents. The most likely cause for "growing pains" is muscle fatigue. Active children run, jump, climb, and exert their muscles in a multitude of different ways in the course of a busy day at school and at play. At days end, tired, exhausted, stretched out and stressed out, muscles cry for relief, and the child vocalizes these pains loud and clear!

Girls seem to suffer more frequently with these types of pains than boys. While growing pains occur at any age, children seem to experience them in two age groups: from 3 to 9 years, and then again in early adolescence. They happen most frequently at night. Interestingly, these children also complain more frequently of headaches and stomaches during the day.

The nonspecific, generalized nature of growing pains may be a feature of many other childhood diseases. In fact, "growing pains" is what many physicians consider to be a ""diagnosis of exclusion"; in other words, "different conditions should be ruled out as a diagnostic possibility before this one can be made. Most often, a thorough history and physical examination by your child’s doctor is sufficient to accomplish this; in other instances, blood tests and x-ray studies may be required.

The notable features of growing pains includes:

* Frequency— -Intermittent; Some children get the pains every night, others once a week or so, and some get them only once in a while. The pains tend to occur after a child has had a particularly active day.

* Intensity—- Generally mild; however, a few children complain of severe pain that provokes crying. The pain can be brief or it can last for an hour, or longer.

* Location -In the muscles and not in the joints. Most children report that the pain is in front of their thighs, in the calves, or behind the knee. Joints affected by other more serious diseases appear swollen,red, tender, and warm. The "growing pains" joint looks quite normal.

* Onset—-Usually in late afternoon or evening before going to bed. Occasionally the pain will make a child wake up at night.

* Other symptoms- The pain may be accompanied by restlessness, but very rarely any signs such as tenderness, redness, swelling. or fever.

The symptom pediatricians find most useful in making a diagnosis of "growing pains" is how the child responds to being handled while in pain. Children who have pain from a serious medical disease do not like to be touched because any movement tends to increase the pain. Children with "growing pains" respond differently; they like to have their legs massaged and feel better when they are held and cuddled.

Your child’’s physician should be notified if any of the following occur with your child’s pain: Persistent pain, swelling, or redness in one particular area or joint, fever, limping, unusual rashes, loss of appetite, weakness, lethargy, or uncharacteristic behavior. These signs generally do not accompany "growing pains and may be an indication of a more serious disorder. "

Growing pains may seem harmless enough from afar, but to a child, they are very distressing .Since the child seems better and is free of pain in the morning, parents sometimes suspect that the child is faking the symptom. This is usually not the case —the pain is quite real and it is at these times that they need their parents reassurance and support more than ever! If you don’’t believe me, just call your parents! . This often provides the interesting news that you too suffered from this common disorder of developing children--growing pains!


As a reminder, this information should not be relied on as medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice of your child’s pediatrician. Please read our full disclaimer.

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