The Truth About Kids and Growing Pains

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It’s 1:00 a.m. and our four-year-old’s painful screams wake us from our sleep. I’m still not sure any parent truly sleeps as they are always listening for their child on some level. Admittedly, after getting the kids to bed, washing bottles, prepping lunches and checking some last minute emails just a couple of hours before, I’m nervous about what this means for the rest of our night. I go rushing into her room and she’s beside herself in pain and grabbing her legs repeating over and over “my legs hurt sooooo bad, Mommy.” My sweet girl is obviously in a lot of pain from what seems like shooting pains. I proceed to find out through her tears that it’s unbearable pain in her calves and I can feel where her muscles are extremely tight. I try massaging the backs of her legs, I try stretching and flexing her feet up which normally helps with Charley Horses, all of which is only short-lived help. After 25 minutes of trying to calm her down and feeling her calves relax again, she drifts off into sleep mostly from exhaustion and crying. I head back to bed and try to fall back asleep again knowing this won’t be the last time she wakes us up. By 5:30 a.m., my hunch was right; it was another long night after consoling her five more times before we all get our start for the next day.

This painful night seems to repeat itself and happen in spurts for my daughter, meaning a couple of nights in a row before we get some relief. This has been going on for a couple of years and I never knew about this kind of pain until it happened to her. The first time this happened was when she was two years old and I assumed it was cramping due to dehydration or a lack of potassium. Then another time when she was three years old, she crumpled to the ground in pain and couldn’t get herself back up. But this time, at four years old this summer, this was the worst pain I’d ever seen her in and it went on and off for an entire week. I began to worry that she may be developing pediatric arthritis, otherwise known as, Junior Idiopathic Arthritis as we have a family history of this.

Over time, I’ve learned that this is best known as growing pains. I eventually heard similar stories from friends and colleagues about their growing pains as a child or their own experiences with their young children. One woman even said the growing pains went on into her teens and the only comfort she found was in putting sports crème on her legs, wrapping them and laying them on a heating pad overnight. It made me feel less alone each time I heard stories of commiseration, but I wondered what are growing pains and how can I help.

It seems that growing pains are a bit of mystery in the medical field too. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics says, “Some girls and boys complain of muscle aches around bedtime or wake up with pains in their legs and arms after sleeping for an hour or two. These aches are sometimes called growing pains. Although no one knows for sure what’s behind them, growth is not the cause; even at the peak of an adolescent growth spurt, a child’s rate of growth is too gradual to be painful. Growing pains may consist of tenderness caused by overwork during hard exercise. Children don’t feel sore while they’re having fun; only later, when the muscles relax, do the pains come on.”

Here are some tips from the AAP to help, but you may have some tried and true recommendations too.

What Parents Can Do to Help Lessen the Pain: You may not be able to prevent growing pains, but you can help your child lessen the aches.

  • Call for periodic rest breaks during energetic play and encourage your child to take part in a variety of sports and activities. In this way, he’ll give different muscle groups a workout and avoid overstraining the same muscles day after day.
  • A warm bath before bedtime may help soothe muscles and ease aches.
  • When growing pains are bothersome, gently massage your child’s limbs.
  • A dose of children’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen may be helpful.

When to Call Your Pediatrician Call your pediatrician if your child has any of the following symptoms:

  • Severe pain
  • Swelling that doesn’t decrease or that grows worse after 24 hours, despite first aid with rest, ice or a cool compress, compression and elevation.
  • Fever
  • A persistent lump in a muscle
  • Limp
  • Reddening or increased warmth of the skin overlying the muscle
  • Dark urine, especially after exercise (If severe enough, this may require emergency care.)

Other helpful links:

Please consult with your pediatrician if you have any concerns about your child.

While we aren’t getting as much rest as we’d like, some small silver lining lies in our toddler’s mind; that she’s growing like a beanstalk every night.

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