Growing pains (recurrent limb pain in children)

Growing pains are aches or pains in the legs that occur in the evening or at night and affect children aged between 4 and 12.

Information written and reviewed by Certified Doctors.

Contents

Introduction

Growing pains are aches or pains in the legs that occur in the evening or at night and affect children aged between 4 and 12. Although they can be distressing, growing pains are harmless and only a phase.

Despite the name, growing pains are nothing to do with growth spurts. This is why some doctors prefer to use the term recurrent nocturnal limb pain in children.

Growing pains seem to be more common in active children and children with loose, flexible joints. They also tend to run in families.

What are the symptoms?

Growing pains are felt as intense, cramp-like pain in both legs. They can affect the calves, shins or ankles. The pains come and go (always in the evening or at night; often after active days) and should not affect your child's ability to walk. There are no signs of physical injury or infection.

If your child is limping, it's unlikely they have growing pains. They may have an underlying medical condition, so you should take them to see a doctor. Read more about a limp in children.

What causes growing pains?

The cause of growing pains is unknown.

They are not linked to:

  • flat feet
  • dietary deficiency
  • growth spurts

What to do

You can give your child paracetamol or ibuprofen to manage the pain. Sometimes, giving them painkillers before bedtime after busy days can prevent them waking in the night.

Children under 16 should not be given aspirin unless your doctor specifically advises this.

You can also try firmly massaging your child's leg muscles and joints to relieve the pain.

Supportive footwear such as trainers might help prevent growing pains. Most children do not need arch supports in their shoes.

When to see your doctor

See your doctor if your child has pain in just one leg, or if they have any of the following symptoms as well as leg pain:

  • joint swelling
  • fever
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • reluctance to walk or a limp with no obvious cause

Your doctor will want to rule out other illnesses, such as arthritis, vitamin D deficiency or even leukaemia, and may refer your child to hospital for further assessment.

Content supplied by NHS Choices