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Learning About Growing Pains

What are growing pains?

Your child wakes up at night with painful legs. You may wonder if it's growing pains. You may feel worried that it could be something serious.

Many people call it "growing pains" when children have pain during their growth years. But the pain is not caused by the child's growth. Nor is it caused by a medical problem. Doctors don't know why children have this pain.

Growing pains hurt, but they are not serious. They will not cause any long-lasting problems.

What can you expect?

Growing pains may start when your child is a toddler. After they start, your child may have them off and on for 1 or 2 years. They can also start later in your child's life. Sometimes teens can have growing pains.

Your child won't be in pain all the time. Your child may go days, weeks, or months with no growing pains. The painful area won't feel warm, and there won't be any swelling or redness or other colour changes.

Not all children have growing pains.

What are the symptoms?

  • Your child's pain is in the muscles, not in joints.
  • The pain usually happens later in the afternoon, in the evening, or at night.
  • The pain can be bad enough that it wakes your child up at night.
  • The pain is usually in the thighs or calves and in both legs.
  • There may be more pain if your child was more active during the day.
  • The pain goes away by the morning.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line if your child's pain:

  • Is in one leg only.
  • Continues through the day.
  • Happens along with exercise.
  • Gets worse.
  • Does not go away after a few days.

How are growing pains diagnosed?

Growing pains have a certain pattern of symptoms. If you are unsure about whether your child is having growing pains, talk to your doctor. The doctor will ask about your child's pain. If it doesn't fit the usual pattern, the doctor may examine your child.

It is probably not growing pains if your child looks sick, has pain during the day or during an activity, or has pain that gets worse over time. In these cases, your doctor may do more tests.

How are growing pains treated?

  • Tell your child that you understand it hurts. But also tell your child that it is not a serious problem and will go away.
  • Try gently massaging the area.
  • Use heat. To apply heat, put a hot water bottle or a warm cloth on the area. Keep a cloth between the warm water bottle and your child's skin.
  • Give your child acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for pain. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not give a child two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Encourage your child to continue their usual activities. Not doing them will not prevent growing pains.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

Where can you learn more?

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