A 4 year-old girl is brought to clinic by her mother for leg pain. Mom says for the past 3 months the child has periodically woken up in the middle of the night complaining of pain in one of her legs. Sometimes it’s her right leg. Sometimes it’s her left. On occasion, she’ll complain of arm pain instead. She never complains of pain during the day and it only happens once every couple of weeks. There has been no trauma. There is never any redness, bruising, or swelling of her limbs. Mom says she is able to relieve the pain simply by rubbing her child with body lotion. She has not had to give her pain medication. The child is otherwise well…eating and drinking fine. She has had no recent infections or illnesses. She is generally healthy.
On exam, the child has normal vital signs including a normal temperature. She is happy and talkative. She can walk without difficulty. Her arms and legs are without redness, bruising, swelling, or tenderness. Her exam is completely normal.
This child was suspected of having “growing pains”. Growing pains is a real phenomenon but despite popular belief, it’s not caused by rapid growth in a child.
Growing pains are described as unexplained recurrent pains in the legs, less often in the arms, of a child that usually occur in the evening and often wake a child up from sleep. There may be days, weeks, or months between episodes.
Growing pains can affect up to 20 percent of kids, usually between the ages of 2 and 12 and slightly more common in girls than in boys. It’s unclear what causes them, but growing pains usually resolve within 1 to 2 years after the onset.
A diagnosis of growing pains cannot be made unless other causes of limb pain have been ruled out such as trauma, tumors, infection, or arthritis.
Growing pains can be treated with gentle, massage, pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and heat.
Blood tests were ordered on this child to look for other possible causes of limb pain. All laboratory tests were normal. After several follow-up visits with her pediatrician, the child’s pains slowly resolved. She hasn’t had an episode in several months.
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