Growing pains are often described as a non specific ache or pain in children’s legs, found in otherwise healthy child. They are reported to be intermittent pains in the muscle (not the joint) in both joints which will often occur in the night time or later afternoon. They are hard to define and are diagnosed through a process of exclusion and affect children of all ages. The cause of the pain is ultimately unknown however there are three theories found in literatures. The first the anatomical theory reports that the increased muscle work found when people have flat feet or walk ‘funny’ are the cause of growing pains. The second fatigue theory hypothosises that the leg muscles are overused in active children. The final theory, the emotional theory, reports that growing pains are caused by pain somewhere else in the body such as stomach aches and head aches or stress and unhappiness. Whilst some children have growing pains on and off for many year, usually they clear by mid adolescence.
Growing pains do not cause a child to be unwell or change the way they walk so if your child is limping, complaining of day pain, is unwell, the leg is sore to touch, then advise your GP or podiatrist as they may have an underlying infection or injury.
When attending your podiatrist they will take an extensive history of the type of pain, when and where it is occurring. Depending on the nature of the complaint, your podiatrist may complete physical examinations of feet and watch your child walking, and may refer you for X-rays or ultrasounds. When they have ruled out other possibilities for the pain, they will provide diagnosis of growing pains. Your podiatrist will offer a combination of the following treatments depending on your individual child’s needs.
Physical therapies such as strapping, exercises/stretching, show wedges or orthotic therapy may be advised. Your podiatrist may advise massage of the painful area, warm baths and heat packs or pain medicines such as Panadol. They may also ask you to keep a pain diary. In addition to this they will advise you to give your child plenty of cuddles and reassurance that the pain will go away and their legs will feel normal again in the morning.
If the pain is persistent and increasing in intensity, in a particular spot and hurt to touch, unilateral, in your child’s joints, in the morning or in the upper limbs your podiatrist may be suspicious that there may be another cause of the pain and will refer you to your GP for further testing such as blood test or medical imaging.