Do aching legs keep your child awake at night? He or she may be suffering from growing pains. Growing pains are cramping, aching muscle pains that some pre-schoolers and teens experience in both legs. As parents, we worry about our children, especially when they are in pain. But when should we be concerned there is something more serious going on and see a doctor?

Growing pains

What are growing pains? 

Growing pains are often described as pain or throbbing in the legs – often in the front of the thighs, calves or behind the knees. Growing pains usually affect both legs, occur at night, and may even wake a child from sleep. Although this pain is referred to as growing pains, there is no evidence that growth hurts. Growing pains may be related to a lowered pain threshold or, in some cases, psychological problems. 

When does growing pains occur? 

Growing pains usually begin in early childhood, around age 3 or 4. They usually recur in children between the ages of 8 and 12. 

The pain usually occurs in the late afternoon or evening. However, your child may also wake up in the middle of the night. 

Symptoms of growing pains 

Growing pains are different for everyone. Here are some symptoms to look out for: 

  • Some children have severe pain, others do not. Most children do not have pain every day.
  • Growing pains can come and go. They can last for months or even years. Most children outgrow growing pains within a few years.
  • The pain usually occurs in the late afternoon and evening, just before dinner and before bedtime. The leg pain may be so severe that it wakes your child from sleep.
  • If your child is fine in the morning, do not immediately think he or she is faking it. Growing pains go away in the morning. Usually, they do not interfere with your child’s ability to play sports or be active.
  • Generally, growing pains are noticeable in both legs, especially in the front of the thighs, the back of the legs (calves), or behind the knees.
  • Studies suggest that children who suffer from growing pains may be more sensitive to pain. Children who suffer from growing pains are also more likely to have headaches and abdominal pain. 

What causes growing pains? 

Despite the name “growing pains,” there is no clear evidence that growing pains are associated with growth spurts. Instead, growing pains may simply be muscle aches due to intense childhood activities that can strain your child’s muscles. These activities include running, jumping and climbing. Growing pains seem to occur more often after a child has had a particularly strenuous day of exercise. 

How do you treat growing pains? 

Treatment for growing pains depends on how severe the pain is in your child. The following may relieve the discomfort and help your child feel better:

  • Massage the legs.
  • Stretching the leg muscles. This may be difficult for younger children.
  • Place a warm cloth or heating pad on the sore leg. Be careful not to burn the skin and do not use the heat while sleeping. 

If the pain does not get better, ask your doctor if it is OK possible to give your child an over-the-counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Ask about the appropriate dose for your child. Never give aspirin to a child. Aspirin use in children has been linked to a life-threatening condition called Reye’s syndrome. 

When should you see a doctor? 

Consult your child’s care provider if you’re concerned about your child’s leg pain or if the pain is:

  • Persistent
  • Still present in the morning
  • Severe enough to interfere with your child’s usual activities
  • Located in the joints. Growing pain affect muscles, not joints.
  • Associated with an injury
  • Accompanied by other signs or symptoms, such as swelling, redness, tenderness, fever, limping, rash, loss of appetite, weakness or fatigue 


Growing pains can affect nearly 40% of children in the age groups mentioned, but not every pain a child feels is necessarily a growing pain. If you are concerned, you should see a doctor to rule out something more serious. If there is an underlying cause, such as a chronic illness or injury, there are medical and lifestyle treatment options.

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