The truth about ‘growing pains’ in children

Has your child experienced ‘growing pains’?

There is a common misconception about these leg pains that often present themselves following a heavy day of exercise.  They can be experienced immediately after exercise but it is also common to have them late at night when there is no activity.

The general misconception is that these pains are normal, simply a part of growth, and that they will go away naturally.

However, ‘growing pains’ can be a pathological issue related to muscular imbalances and poor functional alignment.

They do not happen to every child because they are not always directly linked to growth spurts.  Common causes are related to overall foot and leg function, primarily ligamentous laxity (floppy joints) and joint hypermobility (double jointed).

Both conditions have similar signs:

  • Flat feet – The extra laxity in joints causes the feet to collapse.
  • Excessively tight muscles – A result of the body compensating for increased joint laxity.

Excessive movement of the lower limb joints forces the subconscious contraction of leg muscles (usually calf muscles) to stabilise joints.  Combined with general exercise or activity throughout the day, this puts the leg muscles through a significant amount of work. The body can’t keep up with the demand and the muscles cramp as a result of the lack of oxygen.    

These pains can also present at night well after activity, when the body is resting. Even at night, oxygen demands are high. But when the body is resting, the deoxygenated blood isn’t being pushed from the legs to the heart as effectively, so the reoxygenated blood returns to the legs slower.

Immediate treatment can be as simple as a massage for the legs to help improve blood flow.  Putting heat packs on legs and keeping the body warm will also prevent blood from being redirected from the limbs and improve circulation.

However, prevention is key. The best way to prevent these pains from occurring is to support the joints of the foot and ankle to prevent muscle overuse.  Your podiatrist will be able to help you with this by assessing your feet and leg biomechanics to determine how to provide enough support.  This may require changing footwear and/or using strapping, shoe padding or orthotic therapy.