6 Signs of Growing Pains

mother and daughter talkingThe other day, my daughter held out her arm, waved it in the air, and said, “This hurts!”

I asked all the appropriate mommy-trying-to-make-a-diagnosis questions: Did you fall? Did sissy twist it? Did you get hit with something? I inspected her skin for scrapes, scratches, bruises, and other visible wounds; and when all came back negative, I affirmed in my Dr. Mom voice, “Well, it’s probably just growing pains.”

Children experiencing true growing pains may complain of feeling sore, but they continue exhibiting a high activity level.

No, I wasn't referring to the ‘80s hit sitcom featuring Kirk Cameron, but instead to those unexplained aches and twinges kids feel from time to time; the ones with no observable cause.

As my daughter walked away, I caught myself wondering: are growing pains real?

I’m happy to report I didn't diagnose my seven-year-old with a fictitious ailment! Although, after what I learned while doing research, the diagnosis I gave her might not be absolutely correct. Cheryl Wu, a pediatrician from New York, says about 10-40% of children will experience growing pains; and Dr. Jorge Gomez, Sports Medicine Specialist at Texas Children’s Hospital, says the problem with the term actually lies within how people use it. “Specialists in musculoskeletal medicine consider growing pains a specific diagnosis,” he adds, in which all the following criteria must be met:

  • Pain doesn't interfere with normal activity.
  • Child is normally very active.
  • Pain occurs late in evening or during the night.
  • Child complains of deep, aching pain of the calves, knees, or thighs.
  • There are no other symptoms of illness.
  • Physical examinations are normal.

Children experiencing true growing pains may complain of feeling sore, but they continue exhibiting a high activity level. The pain doesn't impede with playing, running, or any other activities. Additionally, most growing pains are felt in the legs and not in the arms or other areas of the body.

So how do you know if your child has been injured, or if he’s simply experiencing aches associated with growing? The most important part of solving the mystery surrounding the pain is getting the correct diagnosis.

If your child complains of pain, a medical exam should be conducted by a physician (not just Dr. Mom) to rule out additional problems. The physician will check for signs of underlying problems that could point to another condition, such as fever, redness, joint involvement or injury, bruising on the skin, and broken bones.

If the exam comes back negative, the child may, indeed, be experiencing discomfort associated with growing pains. This can be easily treated through the use of warm compressions, baths, ibuprofen, and stretches of the thigh and calf muscles before bedtime. 

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6 Signs of Growing Pains

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