Growing pains (recurrent limb pain in children) 

  • Overview

Introduction 

Link with restless legs syndrome?

Some doctors are investigating whether there is a link between growing pains and restless legs syndrome (RLS). This is a condition of the nervous system that causes an overwhelming urge to move the legs and an unpleasant sensation in the legs that eases once the legs are moved.

It's not currently known whether growing pains are an early form of RLS, or whether they are entirely separate conditions.

Growing pains are aches or pains, most commonly in the lower legs, that occur in the evening or at night and affect children aged between three and 12. Although they can be distressing, growing pains do not cause long-term harm.

Despite the name, there is no clear evidence to suggest that growing pains are the result of growth spurts. This is why some doctors prefer to use the term 'recurrent nocturnal limb pain in children'.

What are the symptoms?

Growing pains are felt as intense, cramp-like pain in both legs. They most often affect the calves, shins or ankles, but can also affect the thighs.

The pains develop in the evening or at night (often after more active days), but should not be present in the morning.

Your child's ability to walk should not be affected by growing pains and there should be no signs of limp, physical injury or infection.

If your child's symptoms are different to those described above, for example if only one leg is affected or they are limping, it's unlikely they have growing pains. In these cases, you should take your child to see a GP (see below), as they may have an underlying medical condition.

What causes growing pains?

The cause of growing pains is unknown, although they seem to be more common in active children and children with loose, flexible joints (joint hypermobility). They also tend to run in families.

There is no clear evidence to suggest they are the result of growth spurts or any underlying conditions.

What to do

Growing pains can usually be treated at home. You can give your child paracetamol or ibuprofen to manage the pain. Sometimes, giving them painkillers before bedtime after an active day can prevent them waking in the night.

However, children under 16 should not be given aspirin unless your doctor specifically advises this.

You can also try firmly massaging your child's leg muscles and joints or applying warmth to their legs, for example with heat packs.

Supportive footwear such as trainers might help prevent growing pains. Make sure that any shoelaces are tied and that shoes with Velcro are fastened firmly.

When to see your GP

See your GP if your child's symptoms are particularly severe or suggest they may have another condition, such as:

  • pain in just one leg
  • pain also affecting the arms or back
  • pain that occurs every night or continues during the day
  • swollen joints
  • a high temperature (fever)
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • reluctance to walk, or a limp with no obvious cause

Your GP will want to rule out other illnesses, such as arthritis, vitamin D deficiency (rickets) or even leukaemia if you child is unwell, and may refer your child to hospital for further assessment.




Page last reviewed: 05/03/2014

Next review due: 05/03/2016

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The 5 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Ladywriter1968 said on 10 May 2014

When I was very young child I used to get pains on both legs and my Dad said then its growing pains. the gp could not find nothing wrong, I was very active and my legs would have like a dull ache in them after a exercise day, and the pain would come on at night when I was in bed and I would get rid of the pain by keeping my legs very still for a while. I must have been very young I would say between ages of 4 -7. at a guess. Years later now in my 40's I have lower back pain with 2nd disk degeneration, whether there is a connection years later with this I have no idea. Or if I had a weakness in my spine back then, but the spinal pain started in my early 30's with sciatica pains down my legs from pinched nerve in my back.

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ChloRogerson said on 13 March 2014

I am 15 and I still get horrendous growing pains! I also suffer from RLS. The only way I can handle my growing pains is by taking Co-Codamol and putting an ice-pack on it.

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Magpie0922 said on 27 January 2014

I am a 22 year old female and I still get "growing pains" though not as frequently. I've found they seem to be caused by dehydration so the best treatment is to drink as much water as possible when I feel them coming on and sometimes a paracetamol for good measure. This stops them before they get bad. I can get it in either leg and sometimes in my lower arms/wrists, normally after active days. (When i was younger i'd put my feet in hot water and massage my legs, and then hold them up vertical against the wall when i went back to bed.)
I also get restless leg syndrome but only when very tired. Again I find drinking loads of water helps. I hope this is useful to any parents and/or sufferers.

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volcaniciceberg said on 15 July 2013

I also had these pains as a child. Now as a 35yr old male, I have been experiencing RLS for 20yrs - some nights are worse than others. My two daughters now complain of very sore legs at night - I really hope they are not going to end up with RLS in a few years.

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difranks said on 17 May 2013

As a child I would cry at night with "growing pains". Mainly in my right leg. Now as an adult have for the last 30 odd years had RLS. Doesn't happen every day but agree it is after an active day when I have used my legs a lot. Have to walk the bedroom floor to ease the annoying and very unpleasant feeling of it.. For anyone who has not had RLS - imagine you are an athlete about to run a race and you are on a starting block - your leg muscles are all tensed up raring to go and you can hardly hold back. That is what it is like at night as you lay there trying to get to sleep. Only way to ease the feeling is to use those muscles that are all pent up and raring to go, lol.

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