Growing Up Can Really Hurt

Dear Dr.Mom

Are growing pains real? My older daughter has had them for years. They are always at night, always in her legs, and sometimes the pain brings her to tears. What can I do for her?


Yes, growing pains are a real condition that can affect 25-40% of children between the ages of 3-5 and then again between the ages of 8-12. You describe some key characteristics regarding growing pains, and, as you and your daughter both know, they can really hurt!

So, though growing pains are considered a “normal” part of growing up for some children, the pain can be significant. Let’s look more closely at growing pains and see what we can do to help children during these painful episodes.

Defining Symptoms of Growing Pains

  • Sharp, throbbing pains in the muscles of the legs
  • Typically occurs in both legs, not just one.
  • The pain is usually located at the front of the thighs, calves, or behind the knees.
  • Important to note that joint pain is NOT considered part of growing pains.
  • The pain usually occurs late in the afternoon and before bed, particularly if your child has had an especially physically active day.
  • The pain may wake your child up at night but is usually gone by the morning.
  • The pain responds well to massage and touch versus other potentially serious conditions in which touch can increase the pain.

Why Growing Pains?

  • The pain is believed to stem from the fact that while bones are growing, your child’s tendons are relatively tight, causing aches and discomfort in the surrounding muscles as those tendons stretch to accommodate growing bones.
  • The pains are usually exacerbated by a day filled with jumping, running,and climbing. In other words, a typical day for any child.

How you can help your child:

  • Massage the area that is causing her pain
  • Apply a heating pad
  • Gently stretch her legs
  • Continue daily stretching exercises to help those tendons lengthen to accommodate her growing bones
  • Ibuprofen or acetaminophen may be used for especially painful nights

Signs that your child may have more than just growing pains

  • Joint pain
  • Pain that is tender to touch or massage
  • Red, swollen, or painful areas
  • Fever, limping, or rash associated with leg pain
  • If your child shows any of these signs or symptoms, she should be evaluated by her doctor.
  • It is important to distinguish growing pains from other, more serious, medical conditions. Whenever in doubt, please contact your child’s doctor.

I remember having significant growing pains when I was a child. Even now, I can recall the nights I sat up, unable to sleep because my legs hurt. My mom would massage my legs until I fell asleep. It was the best thing she could do and it worked.

Have you or your child been affected by growing pains?

24 Responses to Growing Up Can Really Hurt
  1. Laura
    January 12, 2011 | 4:33 am

    None of my boys had them, but my husband talks about having growing pains. His were relieved by the very methods you described, and he has good memories of his dad helping him back to sleep!

  2. ~Mrs. DCS RN~
    January 12, 2011 | 7:38 am

    I had terrible leg pains that would wake me up in the middle of the night when I was a little girl. The only thing I remember that worked was a heating pad wrapped around my leg.
    My oldest child had them on and off for about a year and now my middle child is experiencing them as well but not as bad. I give them Motrin and a heating pad.
    I do remember once when I was little I fell asleep with the heating pad set too high and I had blisters around my leg the next day. So I am very cautious with my kiddos ~ when they fall asleep I either shut it off or turn it to the lowest setting and also set the timer on heating pad.

  3. Jamie
    January 12, 2011 | 7:39 am

    This is timely as my husband and I were talking about these the other day. I've never had them and neither has my husband, but I remember friends having them. I think my daughters get them. They complain of random pain in their legs that never lasts and it's normally at night.

  4. Mrs.Mayhem
    January 12, 2011 | 9:02 am

    Interesting. I had no idea that growing pains were real. None of my kids have had them,and the youngest is 5, so I guess we're in the clear? I'm assuming that if a child doesn't have them between the ages of 3-5, then they probably won't have them between ages 8-12.

  5. Susan
    January 12, 2011 | 9:16 am

    Yes, my daughter has been experiencing the leg cramps for the last several years. We have been doing exactly what you've recommended and the tips work!

  6. Gigi
    January 12, 2011 | 10:52 am

    Good to know they are real! My 7.5 year old has been getting these a bit.

  7. Sherri
    January 12, 2011 | 1:10 pm

    Oh Melissa, I totally remember these as a kid! It was almost as if my legs grew to their adult length overnight….and I sure felt it. My daughter has mentioned them a few times, too, so I understand what she's talking about.

    This is great information, and something you don't always read about.

  8. Liz
    January 12, 2011 | 1:34 pm

    Um, I think Kate needs to GROW in order to experience them! Poor thing's always in the 3rd percentile for height!! :)

  9. Chelsea
    January 12, 2011 | 1:47 pm

    Thanks for posting this. My daughter has been dealing with growing pains lately so it's good to know what I can do to help!

    January 12, 2011 | 3:47 pm

    Thanks fore the reminder that these are normal. My son has always struggled with them. The heating pad, massage and the occasional Advil do help.

    But can you just magically make them go away? 😉

  11. Funky Mama Bird
    January 12, 2011 | 4:08 pm

    OMG, I'm having flashbacks right now and not in a good way! I got SEVERE growing pains – the only thing that helped was sleep, but I was often in too much pain to fall asleep. Eventually, we figured out that really, really HARD massage would relieve the pain long enough for me to fall asleep. They also lasted well into my teens. Oh, god, I swear my toes are curling up just thinking about them!

  12. Katherine
    January 12, 2011 | 5:12 pm

    Both my boys are having growing pains right now that keep them from falling asleep. Usually just a hot water bottle works, but sometimes I do break out the tylenol.

  13. Cheryl
    January 12, 2011 | 5:17 pm

    I had those and boy they hurt! Not looking forward to my kids going through it!

  14. Truthful Mommy
    January 12, 2011 | 5:21 pm

    My husband and I both had them growing up. My girls are 3 and 5 and both have them, quite frequently but i do notice they are exacerbated when they have been playing dress up in high heels:)Poor babies. We massage and apply heat.My girls are both very tall (99 percentile) both projected to be over 6' . Great article.

  15. Joey @ Big Teeth and Clouds
    January 12, 2011 | 6:24 pm

    I never had them, but my husband did!

  16. Alex
    January 12, 2011 | 8:13 pm

    I hope my son never has them. Thank you for sharing.


  17. Miel Abeille
    January 12, 2011 | 9:28 pm

    Yes! I remember the growing pains! My mom would rub my legs & listen to me cry & complain, and that's the only thing that would make me feel better.

  18. Genny
    January 12, 2011 | 11:06 pm


    I haven't been here in a while… so great to stop by. Congrats on your Sac Parent piece! That magazine is such a great resource and they are so wonderful to write for.

    What a great post too. My kids both have growing pains and we just got information from their pediatrician lately about stretches, etc. I never knew there was an offical name for them and that they could get so painful. (I didn't really have them as a kid, but my husband did.)

    Have a great night,

  19. Cheryl D.
    January 13, 2011 | 12:16 am

    I never had these as a kid. My daughter got through the first age range without them. Hopefully, the next big growth period will be painless too!

  20. Lady Jennie
    January 13, 2011 | 7:30 am

    As soon as I read the title, I knew. That's what my daughter gets, and my son is starting to.

  21. blueviolet
    January 13, 2011 | 3:17 pm

    I had them and both of my kids too. As a matter of fact, I have been getting them all the way into adulthood. :(

  22. TheBabyMammaChronicles
    January 15, 2011 | 7:00 pm

    Thank you! I'll have to send this one to my sister. My sweet little niece is always waking up with leg pains and my sister always massages them! She's 4.

  23. Savannah
    November 16, 2011 | 8:36 pm

    I used to get horrible pain in my legs and arms when I was a child. Doctors and my parents both assumed it was growing pains until my mom found a book called “Is This Your Child?” that suggested these “growing pains” could be a dairy allergy. Turns out, 20 years later I still get horrible pain in my legs (and sometimes arms) if I eat dairy. None of my other siblings experienced them and they can eat dairy with no problems.

    While I have no evidence to prove that growing pains don’t exist, I would encourage parents not to rest easy if their children are experiencing real pain. Not all food allergies manifest in tummy aches, swelling, rashes, or difficulty breathing. Moms, you know your child better than any doctor. If you think your child’s pain could be more than growing tendons, don’t be afraid to ask questions.

  24. Nurse Lisa
    November 2, 2012 | 11:18 am

    I just want to add another relief option…from personal experience. I dealt with terrible growing pains as a child. Very warm bath soaks always relieved them.