What Are Growing Pains

Jonathan Warren

Author: Jonathan Warren



As children grow older, stronger and taller, they might start to experience some pain in their legs. For many children, these “growing pains” are a normal part of your journey through your younger years – but what exactly are growing pains?  

In this guide, we’ll discuss what growing pains are, what causes them and what you as a parent can do to help alleviate what can be a painful experience. 

What are Growing Pains? 

Growing pains are an achy or throbbing sensation that occurs in the legs but can also lead to headaches or pain in the abdominal area. There is no real pattern to the sensation, coming and going without warning. It tends to occur in both legs at the same time, usually centred on the muscles as opposed to joints.  

Who gets them  

Growing pains are a problem exclusively experienced by children. They occur at the same age as when children go through rapid stages of growth – hence their title. They can start in children as young as three years old and often continue all the way up to the age of 12.  

They are more likely to occur in active children. This has led some doctors to believe the cause may be tired muscles.  

What causes them 

Growing pains are one of medical science’s many mysteries. There’s no actual evidence that your bones and muscles becoming bigger and stronger should be the cause of pain. Aside from the theory that they occur when muscles are tired, the Mayo Clinic has suggested it could be the result of a lowered pain threshold or even psychological problems.   

If your child experiences growing pains, there’s no need for alarm. It’s not a sign of something more serious, as long as the child has grown out of it by their teenage years. 

How this relates to sleep   

The onset of growing pains usually happens in the early evening and into the night. Sometimes children might be woken up in the middle of the night feeling growing pains. This might support the idea that the cause is tired muscles, exhausted from the trials and tribulations of the day.  

How to Stop Growing Pains 

With no known cause, there is no known “cure” to growing pains. As a parent, this doesn’t mean you can’t help your child be more comfortable when their next bout of growing pains occurs. Here are five tips that might help minimise the discomfort your child feels: 

Massage the legs   

By simply massaging the affected area, you could offer some much-needed relief from growing pains. Before bed, gently massage your child’s legs to relax affected muscles – it could help keep the pain at bay while they sleep soundly at night.  

Cover with heat   

Heat is a great way to relieve muscle pain, and growing pains are no different. If the pain is becoming too much for a child, stick a heat patch onto the affected area for a few hours of relief. For an instant way to reduce pain, you could also try applying a hot water bottle to the affected area.  

Try a warm bath before bed 

As an extension of the heat theory, warm baths can be a great solution to growing pains. You might jump in a hot bath after extensive use of your muscles in a sports match, and the same logic applies here. When applied to muscles, heat can help promote blood flow and help tightened or sore muscles relax.  

Support a child’s legs throughout the day 

Given how popular theories suggest that growing pains are caused by tiring muscles, you could take steps to support your child’s muscles when they are out and about. Suggest that they do some stretches throughout the day, especially if they are about to take to the sports field at school. A good pair of reliable, supportive trainers might also give them the extra bit of support their muscles need.  

Use pain relief    

If some of the other tips we’ve suggested here don’t work, you could consider some over-the-counter pain relief. You should always consult a doctor before you take this step and be sure to ask them what they would recommend for the pain. The official NHS website says you could try ibuprofen or paracetamol – but never aspirin (which should never be given to children unless a doctor prescribes).  

When you should see a GP  

All the best medical advice suggests that growing pains are just a normal part of many young people’s lives, and there is absolutely no reason for concern. If you think that your child exhibits unusual or more serious symptoms of pain in their legs, you might consider getting in touch with your GP. The NHS’ official advice on growing pains states that if you see any of the following, you should contact a doctor: 

  • the pain is only in one leg 
  • the pain carries on the next morning 
  • the pain is bad enough to stop your child walking or makes them limp 
  • the pain is in a joint, such as their knees or ankles 
  • there's a rash, swelling or unusual bruising on the legs 
  • your child has a high temperature 
  • your child does not want to eat or is losing weight 

Growing pains are an unusual mystery to parents and doctors alike. Take our advice above and you can help your child feel a little more relaxed about growing pains, helping them sleep well at night until they are no longer a problem.