Growing pains are not just a myth. They affect up to 25% of children, generally between the ages of 3 and 12.

It can be confusing if your child complains of pain and the pattern is not consistent. One night he may wake up crying and say his thigh aches, and a few days later he may complain about his shin—first on the right leg, and then another time the left. It is common for the ache to move around and growing pains can occur many nights a week—for months—before they just disappear. 

What Are Growing Pains?

Growing pains are aches that occur in a child’s legs. Even though they are common, we have no clear idea what causes these aches. Are they really from growing—or from the jumping, climbing, and running that normal children do all day? We just do not know. (For some children, the pains do seem to happen after very active days.)

If your child is complaining of pain at night, call your healthcare provider. The healthcare provider should ask you some key questions to figure out if these are routine growing pains.

  • Does the pain or limping occur during the day?
  • Is the pain in a joint?
  • Is it always in the same spot on the same leg?
  • Is the leg painful to touch?
  • Is there any redness or swelling?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then the problem is not a simple case of growing pains. Your healthcare provider will evaluate your child to figure out if there is a more serious concern.

Growing Pain Symptoms

Common growing pain symptoms include an aching or throbbing feeling in the legs. Typically, growing pains can be felt on thighs, calves, or behind the knees. Growing pains do not occur every day. Instead, they tend to come and go. 

How Long Do Growing Pains Last?

Growing pains can last anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, but can even extend to hours in some cases. Usually, growing pains occur at the ages of 3 to 5, and 8 to 12. 

How to Help Relieve Growing Pains and Other Leg Pain

The treatment of growing pains is simple and includes massage, stretching, a heating pad, and ibuprofen or another pain reliever. 

It is important to note that a different type of nighttime leg pain your toddler might experience is muscle cramping. Some kids get painful spasms in their feet or legs during sleep (some adults get these, too). The cramp makes the toes curl painfully and you may be able to feel the knotted muscle in your child’s calf.

The best treatment for muscle cramping is to stretch the muscle by having your child walk or firmly pushing the toes up, to stretch the calf and Achilles tendon. If this occurs more than once, a preventative remedy is to give a magnesium supplement mixed into warm milk at supper or bedtime (this can also cause some loose stools). Ask your healthcare professional for the correct dose of magnesium for your child’s weight.

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