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The Truth About Growing Pains In Kids

Kids Growing Pains

Kids hurt themselves…its how they learn. Climbing, running, jumping, skipping, hopping and scooting their way around the world!! And sometimes they fall, or crash into things and the inevitable tears, bruises and scrapes occur – and then swiftly heal and are forgotten about.

But what about those aches and pains that happen when they haven’t fallen over or bashed into anything.  What about when your child complains about pain with no obvious cause, showing signs of swelling and inflammation and you don’t know why.

This article is about these symptoms, and more specifically growing pains!! I will talk about the why and the how…and a few tips and tricks to help to manage the problem!

A lot of us have heard of growing pains…and most people brush these aside and think that this is not a real phenomenon.  But I can assure you it is very real, and can cause children a lot of pain.

In pre-school age children (ages 3-4), the pain will often be at night, although this can occur in children up to the age of 12.  If your child complains of achy or sore legs, just before bed or throughout the night, growing pains is the likely diagnosis.  These types of growing pains are often in both legs, commonly the thighs or calves.  They should not interfere with normal activity during the day, so children often have no pain in the morning, and are able to run, jump and compete at any sport with ease.

If you are worried about these types of aches and pains – and let’s face it, its hard not to worry – then an assessment with a Kids Specialist Physiotherapist is a great way to check for normal development.  X-Rays and blood tests, and all the things that a GP can offer will not show anything abnormal, but a thorough assessment can rule out other possible causes of pain.

Treatments that can help growing pains include massaging the legs, stretching the leg muscles, and certain heat treatments.  All of these can be advised by a specialist Kids Physiotherapist, and will help to ease the discomfort, making the bedtime routine and nights a lot more comfortable.

The other type of growing pains affecting older children (7+) are a group of syndromes called Apophysitis – although at each site in the body most have their own unique name.

This is an inflammation or stress injury to the areas on or around the growth plates in children and adolescents.  They are usually caused by repetitive overuse activities, so are much more common in really active kids.

They are called growing pains because they regularly occur around the time that a child has a growth spurt.  The theory is that whilst the bones grow, the soft tissues take a little longer to catch up, placing an increased strain on the areas that they attach to, known as the growth plates.  This then causes inflammation and pain at the site.

The good news is that in most instances these ‘syndromes’ are what we call self-limiting (which means they go away).  The bad news is that they can be extremely painful, and cause a lot of distress while they are present.  They are also quite likely to recur if there is a second growth spurt.  As most children who present to kids physiotherapists with Apophysitis are so active, the thought of not being able to do what they love for a period of time is really difficult. Knowing that Kids Physiotherapy can help to resolve the problem more quickly is a real bonus!

There are several common sites where these issues occur…and some funky names to go with the diagnosis.

In the foot, the most common area of pain that we see is in the heel, and this is called Severs. This seems to be more common is a common in boys, although I have treated girls as well, usually between the ages of 8 and 12.  It is normal to notice a lot of swelling in the heel (usually one side only) and it will be very tender to touch so you will notice they don’t want to put their heel to the floor.

In the knee there are two common conditions – although the presentation is pretty similar.  The names of these two ‘syndromes’ are Osgood-Schlatters and Sinding-Larson-Johansson syndrome. Again there will be pain, usually around the bony area just under the knee cap, and swelling.  Things like running, jumping, kneeling and stairs will all be uncomfortable.  It will be worse with exercise, and likely improve with rest – very hard to do with those active kids.

In the hip, Iliac Crest Apophysitis often affect more skeletally mature kids (ages 12-18).  In this instance, there is often a slower onset of pain, but it will be worse with running, jumping, twisting and kicking.

In the arms, apophysitis can be present in both the shoulder and the elbow, although neither have unique names like those of the legs!  The symptoms are the same, pain and inflammation in the affected area, worse with exercise, but better with rest.  They are much more common in young people who participate in a sport which involves repetitive throwing, or with swimming, where there is a high demand on the upper body.

Whatever the area of the body affected, and whatever the age of the child…the recommendations are likely to involve some or all of the following;

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Anti-inflammatories (caution with these)
  • Bespoke Stretches
  • Loading exercises
  • Soft tissue massage

But of course, there is no one size fits all, and making this work for your child can come with its own challenges.  With the support of a Paediatric trained Physiotherapist, the recovery will be speedier, more focused, and more successful. I have worked with so many children with these pesky pains, and it is always a pleasure to see them return to doing what they love PAINFREE!



Wendy founded WDC in September 2006. She has worked in both the public and private sectors. Within the NHS, Wendy worked as a Senior Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist and an Extended Scope Practitioner Physiotherapist as part of an Orthopaedic Consultant’s team specialising in Shoulder Pain. Wendy has treated royalty for Shoulder pain through referrals from her close links with a top Orthopaedic Shoulder Surgeon. More recently, Wendy has been the sole choice physiotherapist for all Essex-based referrals from London Shoulder surgeon Mr Matthew Sala. Wendy also worked within the national rugby union as the head physiotherapist for Southend Rugby Football Club. She led the medical service at the club for 11 years, working with players who achieved county honours and representative honours for various countries such as England, Samoa, Australia, and New Zealand.
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