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When Your Child Has “Growing Pains”

Your child has been waking up in the middle of the night with leg pain. These “growing pains” are common and normal in children. They typically occur in children between the ages of 3 and 5 and again just before adolescence, around the age of 8 to 12. There are things you can do to help your child feel better when he or she has growing pains.

Father massaging young son's leg because of growing pains.

What Are the Symptoms of Growing Pains?

Growing pains are felt in one or both legs in the middle of the night. The pain might feel like tightness or an ache in the muscles of the thighs or calves. The pain often lasts about 10-30 minutes and disappears by morning.

What Causes Growing Pains?

The specific cause of growing pains is not known. One thought is that physical activity can make muscles tired and more likely to cramp or ache. Dehydration (not enough fluid in the body) is also a possible cause of growing pains.

How Are Growing Pains Diagnosed?

Growing pains are usually easy to diagnose. Your child’s health care provider will examine your child. He or she will also ask about your child’s symptoms and overall health.

How Are Growing Pains Treated?

You can help your child feel better by trying these tips:

  • Massage. Gently rub your child’s leg where the muscle hurts. 

  • Apply a heating pad or pack. Place a warm, not hot, heating pad under the painful area until your child’s leg feels better.

  • Give ibuprofen. You can give your child this over-the-counter medication. It can help relax the painful muscle so your child can fall back asleep.

  • Keep up fluids. Make sure your child always has water available to drink during the day.

Call your child’s health care provider right away if your child has any of the following:

  • Knee, ankle, or elbow pain (pain in joints) or swelling of a joint

  • Discomfort that lasts into the morning, such as pain, limping, or stiffness

  • Pain at night in parts of the body other than the legs

  • Pain in exactly the same spot every time

  • Leg pain that happens during the day

Online Medical Reviewer: Dozier, Tennille, RN, BSN, RDMS
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 4/26/2014
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