child in bed

Finally, your kids are sleeping through the night. They're even going to bed at a reasonable hour and staying there too! And then it happens. Your child wakes up crying out loud and grabbing their legs. Growing pains: they're not just an '80s TV sitcom. And contrary to popular opinion, they have nothing to do with growth spurts.

"The term 'growing pain' is a bit of a misnomer," says pediatrician Dr. Carol Wilkinson, medical director of Kinsights, an advice sharing network for parents. "Studies have shown that they are not associated with periods of rapid growth."

Instead, these aches in the muscles can simply be signs that your child's muscles are sore from playing hard on the playground or something deeper -- a stress or big social change that can lower their pain tolerance and make it hard to sleep.

So how do you know if your child is experiencing growing pains? And more importantly, what can you do to help? A little advice from the experts:

What to look for:

If your pre-school- to school-aged child (typically anywhere from 2 to 12) is complaining about crampy or achy pain on both the right and left legs during the evening or at night, there's a good chance it's growing pains, according to Dr. Ashanti Woods, attending pediatrician at Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre, Maryland. Growing pains can also affect the arms, again bilaterally or both sides.

If the pain is gone by the next morning, don't be alarmed -- or think your child is faking it. "Although it is possible, growing pains rarely present or manifest during the day," says Dr. Woods. "Because symptoms are primarily in the evening, physical exam findings in children with suspected growing pains are usually normal."

In other words, by the time you snag that pediatrician appointment, your kid may be running around, laughing, and playing ... only to end up crying three nights later when the pain hits again.

What to do:

"Massaging the area and helping your child stretch his muscles can help a lot," suggests Dr. Wilkinson. "A heat pack can also be used before bed. If your child is waking up at night from pain, you can also try medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen (like Tylenol or Advil) before bed."

When to seek help:

Growing pains are a benign condition that rarely requires medical intervention, but there are some conditions that share similarities and are worth a visit to the doctor. 

"If a child has joint swelling or decrease range of motion, abnormal skin findings (such as bruising or 'new' birth marks), abnormal walking, or enlarged organs such as the spleen or lymph nodes, parents should seek attention from their child's pediatrician," Woods warns.

"Other subtle signs to suggest speaking with your child's doctor include fever, pallor (pale skin), or significant weight loss over a one- to two-month period," he adds.

Have your kids been experiencing growing pains? What do you do to help?

 

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