When children feel pain in their joints, muscles or bones, many parents chalk it up to “growing pains.” Knowing the difference between this type of pain and the signs of a more serious problem will enable you to decide how best to address your child's pain.
There is no research that confirms the reality of growing pains; the theory behind them is that a child experiences aches and pains when his or her bones are growing and muscles are stretching. Though this has not been proven, it is true that young children and teens often experience similar types of pain during their growing years.
According to the Mayo Clinic, if growing pains exist, they are characterized by an aching in the muscles of the legs. The symptoms often occur in the front of the thighs, behind the knee and in the calves. They generally present later on in the day, sometimes causing children to awaken in the middle of the night, and are gone by morning.
Some medical professionals theorize that this common leg ache is caused by running, jumping and other activities typical among children. Muscle fatigue in the legs would explain the sudden onset and disappearance of pain in the leg muscles.
If your child has pain somewhere other than the legs and it is not in a muscle, there is likely another cause beyond the legendary growing pains. One common type of pain among children and teens is back pain. Back pain should never be considered a symptom of growing pains. In children, it could indicate a number of causes, including: scoliosis, poor posture, inactivity, a backpack that is too heavy or improperly worn, being overweight or injury to a spinal joint. Spinal injuries are more common among children who play sports.
If back pain persists beyond a couple days and is not muscular pain, it is a good idea to have your child assessed by a medical professional. A physical examination may be enough to rule out scoliosis. Imaging tests can identify structural problems in the spine such as misalignment or joint breaks. Educate yourself about proper posture and ergonomics so that you can share this information with your child. Spinal and pelvic misalignment caused by poor posture can result in lifelong pain.
Knee pain is another common form of pain among children. If your child has pain in the knee joint, this should not be considered a symptom of growing pains. It could be the result of a simple twist that will heal itself in a day or two with a little rest, but it could indicate a more severe problem with one of the structures of the knee (remember, children may not always be able to tell you what caused the pain in the first place).
The knee consists of bone (the kneecap), ligaments that support the knee joint and cartilage between the kneecap and bones of the lower and upper leg. Any one of these structures can be subject to injury, causing knee pain. The article at http://www.keepkidshealthy.com/adolescent/adolescentproblems/kneepain.html lists a number of types of knee problems and corresponding symptoms. Keeping all muscles of the legs strong and balanced can help reduce the risk of knee pain in children and teens.
Though the reality of growing pains is questionable, short-lived aches in children's leg muscles are likely not a cause for concern. Other types of pain, including back and knee pain, should not be written off as growing pains, since they might indicate a more serious problem.