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Health Tips for Parents


Health Tips for Parents

2010 Issues

What are growing pains?


June2010-HT Leap FrogGrowing pains” may be felt by as many as one-third of children between the ages of 4 and14 years, and may be distressing for both child and parent, but these aches in the legs or arms are a normal part of childhood, and not a serious condition.

The pain or discomfort caused by what is known as “growing pains” may cause sleepless nights for children and worry for parents. “Despite the name, no firm evidence exists that the growth of bones causes pain. These aches are probably not related to growth,” states Carlos Lerner, M.D., medical director, UCLA Children’s Health Center, and assistant professor of pediatrics. The most common cause of the pain is likely muscle fatigue. Active children run, jump, climb and exert their muscles in a multitude of ways in the course of a busy day of play. By the end of the day, tired, exhausted, stretched out and stressed out, the muscles cry for relief and so does the child.

Symptoms: Pain in the legs, or sometimes the arms, due to overexertion commonly affect children late in the day or at nighttime after a particularly athletic day and generally go away in the morning. Notable features of growing pains include frequency and occurrence (at night after an active day), pain intensity (mild) and the location of pain (front of thigh, calf muscles or back of the knee).

Diagnosis and Treatment: One symptom that doctors find most helpful in making a diagnosis of growing pains is how the child responds to touch while in pain. Kids who have pain from a serious medical disease don’t like to be handled because movement tends to increase the pain. But those with growing pains respond differently — they feel better when they’re held, massaged and cuddled.

Growing pains are what doctors call a diagnosis of exclusion. This means that other conditions should be ruled out before a diagnosis of growing pains is made. A thorough history and physical examination by your doctor can usually accomplish this. In June2010-HT Comfortrare instances, blood and X-ray studies may be required before a final diagnosis of growing pains is made.

Listen to your child and provide them comfort

Although the pain may be scary to children, explain to them that the pains are probably caused by overexertion of their muscles and will go away with time. “Try massage and heating pads first. If the pain is severe, pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used,” advises Dr. Lerner. Alert your doctor if persistent pain, swelling or redness in one particular area occurs.

Symptoms that may point to more serious problems:

  • Pain in the joints
  • Redness, swelling or warmth over the joints or limbs
  • Persistent fever or fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Persistent limp
  • Pain that persists in the morning
  • Pain that affects just one side
  • Prior injury to the painful area


This information is provided courtesy of the pediatricians at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA. UCLA Health pediatricians are conveniently located in your neighborhood. In addition to our Children’s Health Center in Westwood, we have offices in Brentwood, Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica and West Los Angeles. All health and health-related information contained in this publication is intended to be general in nature and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with a healthcare professional.

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