Do Your Child's "Growing Pains" Merit An Orthopedist Visit?

If you're like many parents, you've been occasionally—or even frequently—roused from a sound sleep by your child's complaints of leg or knee pain. Often chalked up to "growing pains," these cramps and twinges are common among children but can be worrisome to parents, especially if other symptoms are present. Read on to learn more about what causes growing pains and when you should seek medical advice from an orthopedist or pediatrician.

What Are "Growing Pains?" 

Contrary to the name, these pains aren't necessarily associated with growth spurts. However, they do increase in frequency during periods of heavy growth, especially just before kindergarten and then again during late elementary school. These pains generally target the knee, calf, and ankle areas more than the upper legs and can feel like cramping, twinging, or aching. For most children, growing pains strike most often at night and don't affect activity levels during the day.

However, it's actually these activity levels that are believed to cause growing pains. Adults who exercise intensely for an hour or more per day will also deal with muscle aches and pains, and children—many of whom are far more active than adults—are even more susceptible to these cramps. It's not uncommon for these pains to seem worse after a long day of exercise or to come and go intermittently.

When Are "Growing Pains" Something More Serious?

There are a number of home remedies and treatments that can mitigate some of the leg pain your child feels, including warm compresses, children's acetaminophen or ibuprofen, potassium-rich foods, and even light massages. Because growing pains tend to subside by the morning and don't cause limping or a reduction in activity levels, home treatments are generally all that is needed until your child outgrows these pains entirely.

It's a good idea to call a doctor if these treatment methods don't seem to provide any relief or if your child is dealing with other symptoms—like severe headaches, fatigue, weight loss, or fever. These symptoms may be nothing, but they might also indicate that your child's leg and ankle pain isn't the byproduct of growing pains but of a different ailment entirely.

Additionally, if your child's growing pains are accompanied by limping or a reluctance to bear weight on the joint, it could be an orthopedic issue. Because growing pains target muscles, not joints, joint pain or pressure may be a sign that you're dealing with something else. 

If your child has bad growing pains, then go to a family medical care clinic to have the doctors there take a look at what the problem is.