Growing pains - when should I be concerned?

Your child is complaining of leg pain, and you put it down to growing pains. But at what point should you see a medical expert? Dave Duffy explains.

I’m always a little cautious about the term ‘growing pains’. It’s what we call a diagnosis of exclusion – that is, you don’t look for specific symptoms or run tests specifically for growing pains. You look to exclude any physical cause for the pain (typically with a scan) and once you’ve ruled out those other pathologies, what’s left is a diagnosis of growing pains.

What are growing pains?

Growing pains usually stop by the age of 12. We believe the pain is caused by growing bones, muscles and tendons. They all grow at slightly different rates which can create a structural imbalance that leads to pain. Pain appears to be more common in active, sporty children and in double-jointed children.

How many children suffer from growing pains?

Estimates vary, with some studies putting the figure as low as 10% (which seems very low to me) and others as high as 40% of children suffering at least one bout of growing pains.

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How can I ease growing pains?

The NHS recommends a few things you can do to ease the pain. A gentle massage of the legs can help, as can a warm bath before bedtime, a heat pack or hot water bottle, and a child’s ibuprofen or paracetamol.

When should I see a specialist?

Growing pains are usually worse at night and usually in both legs.

Any of the following might prove cause for concern:

  • Pain in one leg
  • Pain that continues till the morning
  • Night pains so bad that they wake your child or prevent them sleeping
  • Prolonged pain that doesn’t appear to be going away
  • Pain that appears out of proportion for typical growing pains or unexpectedly bad for your child (that is, they start to interfere with everyday activities)
  • Developing a limp

Any of the above would be triggers to seek medical attention, typically at first instance with your GP. If pain continues, talk to us.

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>  Discover more about adolescent knee injuries

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Dave Duffy

Dave Duffy

Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon & District NHS Foundation Trust

“Mr Duffy is a wonderful knee surgeon but he’s a very approachable guy as well… That makes a huge difference.”

Jean Drake,
YKC patient.

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