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Is your child suffering from leg pain at night? Chances are you are dealing with so-called "growing pains". Find out when to call a doctor and how to make your child feel better.

Is your child waking up with leg pain at night, or unable to even go to sleep because it hurts so much? Chances are that your kid is dealing with "growing pains". Growing pains and scare children and worry parents, but they are harmless. However, persistent leg pain that comes with other symptoms can have other, more serious, causes that need to be explored by a medical professional. How do you tell the difference? And what can you do to make a kid who is suffering from growing pains feel better?

What Are Growing Pains?

"Growing pains" are a rather enigmatic phenomenon. It affects between 25 and 40 percent of children, and in kids who experience them, these pains usually strike between the ages of three to five, and again between eight and 12. It's probably due to the fact that these are periods of rapid growth that the phenomenon ended up with the name "growing pains". There is, however, no evidence that the pains are actually caused by the process of growing. That is where the enigmatic bit comes in: the cause of these pains is not clear at all, though some studies suggest that they are caused by vigorous physical activity. Other studies suggest that kids who experience growing pains are likely to be more sensitive to pain in general.

One interesting fact is that children whose parents experienced growing pains are more likely to end up with this irritating and sometimes disturbing phenomenon as well.

Growing pains are characterized by throbbing leg pains concentrated around the calves, under the knees, or at the front of the thighs that occur during the evening hours and at night. They involve the muscles rather than the joints, but your child isn't necessarily going to notice the difference and will probably simply say their leg hurts. Children experiencing growing pains may wake up from the pain, or they may be unable to go to sleep. During the day, however, everything is fine again. Most kids who have growing pains don't experience them every day, and they may well have periods of pain followed by periods during which no pain occurs. 

The following symptoms point to growing pains:
  • The child will experience pain in the legs, usually both legs. 
  • The pain happens only at night and totally disappears during the day.
  • The pain doesn't happen every night, but rather comes and goes. 
  • The pain may be so bad that the child can't go to sleep or wakes up at night.

See Also: Sleep Disorders In Children

Making Children Experiencing Growing Pains Feel Better

Waking up with pain or not being able to go to sleep because of it can be a scary experience for a child. First and foremost, many kids will want to have a parent beside them, showing love and support. When my daughter experienced growing pains, I'd often get up with her, make a hot chocolate, and read a story or chat for a while. This distracted her from the pain, and being "fussed over" made her feel better. Beside that, the following are all things that helped my daughter and may help your child too:

  • Stretching exercises: Lifting the legs up and pointing the toes towards the nose as much as possible. 
  • Gentle massage of the legs, concentrating around the area that hurts. 
  • Hot packs (not too hot!).
  • An over-the-counter pain killer suitable for children (tylenol or ibuprofen — never Aspirin!) will help if the pain is really bad.
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