Growing Pains – Information for Families

Nev Davies
Reading Children’s Orthopeadic Unit

Information for Families
Growing Pains (night pains)

growing pains pic


These aches and pains often called “growing pains” or “idiopathic” (of unknown cause) benign (harmless) nocturnal (nighttime) limb pains. They are relatively common in children from ages 2-8 years.

What are the symptoms ?

Symptoms are typical after an active day. The child falls asleep normally but wakes after a few hours with pain in the lower legs. It tends to move around sometimes affecting the knees, sometimes the shins. Very occasionally it can be in the arms.

What is the cause ?

The cause is not clear, and it remains unknown. The most likely explanation is that the aches and discomfort arise from muscles used from normal jumping, climbing and running activities earlier in the day. This is why some have moved away from the term ‘growing pains.’

Does your child need further investigations ?

The characteristic history and the lack of clinical findings examining the child are typical that the diagnosis can usually be made confidently without subjecting them to any uncomfortable tests. Joints affected by more serious pathology are usually swollen, red, tender, or warm, whereas the joints of children experiencing growing pains appear normal. If there is any doubt at all, more serious arthritic and other conditions can be excluded with simple blood tests and X-rays or an MRI scan of the painful areas.

What is the treatment ?

It is important for the child and parents to understand that although the pains may seem severe and distressing, they are not harmful and will go away in time. When they occur frequently, children find local warmth and massage of the leg soothing and that may be all that is needed. If the pain persists for longer, then it is advised to give a dose of Calpol which should bring relief in about 15 minutes. Parents can sometimes predict which nights the child may get pain, dependent on the activities that day.  If that is the case it is safe to give pain relief before bedtime. Use the recommended doses for the age of your child.

What is the prognosis / outlook ?

Growing pains virtually never evolve into any serious form of arthritis or other disease. They may remain troublesome for a while, but they seem to disappear as mysteriously as they came.

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    • General Medical Council (GMC) Membership
    • Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS(Eng.))
    • British Medical Association (BMA)
    • British Orthopaedic Association (BOA)
    • British Society of Children's Orthopaedic Surgery (BSCOS)
    • British Association of Surgery of the Knee (BASK)
    • AO European Trauma Group
    • British Orthopaedic Sports Trauma and Arthroscopy Association (BOSTAA)