What is it?
- Your 8-year-old daughter can't fall asleep because her legs hurt. Your friend's 6-year-old son wakes up in tears with the same complaint.
- Probably not. Some children experience occasional nighttime leg pain without an apparent cause — often called growing pains.
- Growing pains aren't a disease. In fact, the term "growing pains" may be a misnomer because there's no evidence that growth hurts. Still, growing pains are real for many kids. And it's important to take your child's complaints seriously. Occasionally, what seems like growing pains are really due to an underlying condition that can be treated.
- Growing pains typically end by the teen years.
Growing pains are often described as an ache or throb in the legs — often in the front of the thighs, the calves or behind the knees. Usually both legs hurt. Some children may also experience abdominal pain or headache during episodes of growing pains.
Growing pains often strike in the late afternoon or early evening and disappear by morning. Sometimes the pain awakens a child in the middle of the night.
There's no evidence that a child's growth is painful. However, running, climbing and jumping can be hard on a child's musculoskeletal system. Muscle pain at night from overuse during the day is the most likely cause of what's called growing pains.
Growing pains are most common from ages 2 to 12 and are slightly more common in girls than in boys. Running, climbing or jumping during the day might increase the risk of leg pain at night.
Your child's doctor will do a physical exam and ask questions about your child's signs and symptoms. Other specific conditions — such as restless legs syndrome, which is characterized by unpleasant sensations in the legs and an uncontrollable urge to move them for relief — must be ruled out before your child's leg pain can be attributed to growing pains. Rarely, the doctor may use blood tests, X-rays or other diagnostic tests to help determine the cause of your child's leg pain.