Growing pains - when should I be concerned?

When an adolescent complains of knee, limb and joint pain, the temptation is to place it in the catch-all category of ‘growing pains’. So, what are growing pains, and how can you tell when the problem is something more?

Growing pains typically appear in children aged between three and twelve. They usually affect the lower leg (shins, calves and ankles), and tend to appear at night, especially after days of high activity.

Despite the name, growing pains seem not to be directly related to growing. They can be more common in active children and there is some evidence to suggest growing pains run in families. To date, however, we still do not know exactly what causes them.

The cramp-like pains can be intense, but they shouldn’t affect the way your child walks, they shouldn’t cause any long-term harm and they shouldn’t be present in the morning. Standard ibuprofen or paracetamol should be sufficient to treat the pain.

>  Discover more about adolescent knee injuries


If your child’s symptoms differ from the above (e.g. pain is present around the knee, or is constant; or they develop a limp) then they are unlikely to be growing pain-related. They could, however, be the result of other conditions common in adolescence:

  • Osgood-Schlatter Disease

    Particularly common in sporty adolescents during their ‘growth spurt’ years, Osgood-Schlatter disease occurs at the front and just below the knee. It feels worse after activity but rest can help. The condition can last for up to two years.

  • Sinding-Larsen-Johansson DiseaseSimilar in character to Osgood-Schlatter but the pain will usually be at the lower tip of the knee cap.
  • Knee Cap PainKnee cap tracking problems (where the knee cap shifts out of place as the leg bends or straightens) are particularly common in adolescent girls. Rest, immobilisation and physiotherapy can resolve the problem. If the problem persists our knee consultants would usually recommend surgery.
  • Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD)This relatively rare condition affects the joint surface of the knee, where a portion loosens and breaks off within the knee.

    Our orthopaedic specialists usually recommend rest and protection of the joint surface as the initial treatment. If the condition fails to settle, or if a fragment loosens or locks the knee, we may recommend surgery.

There are some very rare and serious conditions not included in this list so it is not to be used as a diagnostic tool. If you or your child are experiencing new knee pain, always seek a medical opinion.


Worried It’s More Than Growing Pains?

If the information in this post has left you wondering whether your child’s symptoms are growing pains or something more pronounced, Yorkshire Knee Clinic can help. Contact our knee consultants for a swift diagnosis and treatment. Talk to Yorkshire Knee Clinic now.

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