Childhood growing pains: What are they and how to fix them
We probably don’t need to tell you that family life in Sydney can be flat out with your child’s sporting activities throughout the entire year. You may find that your child is complaining about muscular pain in their legs and knees.
Recent research shows that nearly 15% of school age children have occasional limb pain, also known as growing pains. A large Australian study by Evans and Scutter found that 37% of children aged four to six years old experience growing pains.
Unravelling the mystery of growing pains
Growing pains are often underdiagnosed and misunderstood by GPs. They are treated as an enigmatic condition, however evidence-based research shows that growing pains do exist. As this is a musculoskeletal condition, the treatment modalities for managing growing pains are relatively simple. In this article, the team at Maroubra Road Physiotherapy will outline how parents can recognise this condition in their child and also common treatment modalities.
What are growing pains?
Growing pains are muscular pains that are common in children during periods of rapid growth. They are caused when a child’s bones grow faster than the length of their muscles. This leads to an increase in muscle tension and pain which can be moderate to severe. Growing pains are common in children aged between three to eight years old, as well as in adolescents. Although not considered extremely serious, growing pains can disrupt your child’s sleeping patterns and can negatively affect their overall physical and emotional wellbeing.
What causes growing pains?
Growing pains occur as a result of rapid periods of musculoskeletal growth. There are also other factors that can impact the likelihood of your child experiencing growing pains.
- High impact sports: Sports that involve running and jumping can aggravate growing pains. Non-weight bearing sports like swimming and cycling are less likely to cause pain.
- Running gait: How your child runs can influence the likelihood they will experience pain.
- Foot position and pronation: How your child foot pronates or rolls can aggravate growing pains.
- Previous strains and sprains: A history of previous strains and sprains that were poorly managed.
- Inadequate footwear: Unsuitable footwear may contribute to problems with how your child runs and moves, leading to pain.
- A low pain threshold: Research shows that a child with a lower tolerance to pain is more likely to experience growing pains during key growth periods of their childhood and adolescence.
The symptoms of growing pains
- Your child reports mild to severe pain in the legs, knees, shins and heels that may keep them awake at night.
- This may occur in both legs or be worse in one leg.
- The pain may be worse during or after a period of intense physical activity or high impact sport.
- Your child reports pain that is worse in the evening and at night, but often improves by the morning, after bed rest.
How Maroubra Road Physiotherapy can help your child
Physiotherapy is highly effective at treating growing pains and hastening recovery time. At Maroubra Road Physiotherapy, we provide an individualised and caring approach to our treatments for children, including hands-on treatment, exercise prescriptions, at home exercise programs, stretching and much more.
The team at Maroubra Road Physiotherapy will ask you questions about your child’s health, their pain, activity levels and the sports they participate in. The physiotherapist will do a physical assessment that may include an assessment of range of motion, palpation of the muscles, bones and tendons, along with a series of physical tests of muscle and ligament strength.
Then the physiotherapist will assess the way your child moves, their gait and how they run and jump. In complex cases, the physiotherapist may suggest further investigations and refer them to a doctor for blood tests or scans in order to rule out other conditions. From this information, the physiotherapist will make a diagnosis.
Treatment modalities: growing pains
Once the physiotherapist has established a diagnosis of growing pains, then a number of treatments may be suggested.
Strengthening and balancing exercises
Strengthening core and global muscle groups is essential. The team at Maroubra Road Physiotherapy can design a strengthening program that will be tailored to the specific needs of your child.
Home-based exercise programs
A home-based exercise program may include proprioception (balance) exercises as well as customised drills that are related to the sports you child plays.
This may be useful for relieving pressure in painful areas of the leg and joints and to ease inflammation.
Orthotic inserts and/or suitable footwear
Biomechanical issues with walking can be corrected by the use of customised orthotic inserts, or with shoes that are supportive and help with correcting walking issues.
Muscle mobilisation and massage
The physiotherapist may use massage, stretching, muscle manipulation and heat in order to relax and lengthen tight muscles and to mobilise stiff joints.
If your child is experiencing severe pain that won’t abate, the physiotherapist may recommend a period of complete rest from sport and any intensive physical activity. In these cases, other forms of gentle and low impact exercises may be recommended such as swimming or cycling, as well as a personalised treatment program. Children can normally resume physical activity again, the key is finding the right activity that won’t aggravate the pain.
Personalised recommendations for your child
In all cases, the physiotherapists at Maroubra Road Physio always respond to the needs of our patients with personalised recommendations on treatment modalities.
A corrective program and ongoing management of growing pains should be prescribed early on in order to correct musculoskeletal problems in children. For treatment and help for your child, speak with our experienced and caring team today on 02 9314 3888.
Burns, Joshua (2018) Health Check: are growing pains real? Children’s Hospital at Westmead & University of Sydney, The Conversation.
Evans AM, Scutter SD (2004) Prevalence of “Growing pains” in young children. J Pediatr. 2004, 145: 255-258. 10.1016/j.jpeds.2004.04.045.
Evans AM (2008) Growing pains: contemporary knowledge and recommended practice, Journal of Foot and Ankle Research.
Uziel, Yosef (2007) Growing Pains in Children, Journal of Pediatric Rheumatology. Yosef.