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Growing Pains

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
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Growing pains are leg pains and soreness that happen to children at night. Growing pains usually start when kids are 3–12 years old.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Growing Pains?

Most kids with growing pains have pain in their thighs, calves, shins, or behind the knees. The pain usually is in both legs and does not involve the joints. Occasionally, kids may have pain in the arms along with leg pain, but they do not have pain only in the arms. Growing pains often strike in late afternoon or early evening before bed but pain can sometimes wake a sleeping child.

Most kids are pain-free and active as usual during the day. Growing pains may last for months or years, but they don't happen every day. There might be days, weeks, or months between pain episodes.

What Causes Growing Pains?

Doctors don’t know what causes growing pains. Pain is not worse during growth spurts and the pain is not around the growth areas of bones. So "growing" pains might just be aches from the jumping, climbing, and running that kids do during the day. Often, a child’s growing pains happen after a very active day.

How Are Growing Pains Diagnosed?

There is no medical test for growing pains. Doctors diagnose them based on a child’s symptoms. It’s likely growing pains if a child:

  • is healthy and has leg pain at night that gets better with massage, heat, and over-the-counter pain medicine
  • is active and has no pain during the day
  • has a normal physical exam

If symptoms do not fit this pattern, the doctor may order blood tests and X-rays to look for another cause.

How Are Growing Pains Treated?

To help ease growing pains, your child can:

  • Massage the area.
  • Stretch.
  • Use a heating pad.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Follow the label directions for how much to give and how often.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Call your doctor if your child has:

  • pain that doesn’t get better with massage, heat, and pain medicine
  • pain during the day
  • swelling, redness, or joint pain
  • pain due to an injury
  • a fever or other signs of illness, like poor appetite or weight loss
  • a limp
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: January 2021