My daughter is five (almost six – wow, where did that time go?). For the last two years she has suffered from terrible pains in her legs. A visit to the doctor left me with the diagnosis of ‘growing pains’ – a condition that we really seem to dismiss in our society, indeed the term is used to describe all sorts of issues with ‘growing up’, more often psychological rather than physical which tends to undermine the very real physical pain that children can experience.
I remember complaining of similar at a young age, I used to wake frequently at night with pains in my legs and remember crying out for my parents. It seems the pains my daughter and I experienced are not uncommon though, with research suggesting that up to 49% of young children experience growing pains at some point in childhood. Nobody really knows what causes growing pains although they do tend to run in families and seem to spontaneously resolve by late childhood.
A paper (1) by Goodyear-Smith explains growing pains as:
“Growing pains are typically non-articular, inter-mittent bilateral aches or pains in the legs that occur in the evening or at night in children aged 3-12 years. They are not associated with limping or limited mobility and do not involve the joints (all of which are recognised signs of pathology); no signs of local trauma or infection are seen. Physical examination and laboratory and x ray investigations are normal. The diagnosis of growing pains is one of exclusion. Reported prevalence ranges from 2.6% to 49.4%, which reflects the diverse criteria used to identify cases and the differing populations sampled.”
Oddly, despite the name ‘growing pains’ don’t actually seemed to be linked to growth.
Research (2) suggests that the following are common symptoms of growing pains:
- For two thirds of children pain is located either in the shins, calves, thighs or at the back of the knee
- Pain is almost always on both sides.
- The pain usually appears late in the day or at night, often waking the child.
- The duration of the pain can range from minutes to hours.
- The intensity can be anything from mild to very severe.
- By morning the child is almost always pain free.
- There are no objective signs of inflammation on physical examination.
- Pain comes in episodes, with pain-free intervals lasting from days to months, although pain can occur daily.
- 43% of children have episodes of growing pains at least once a week
- Parents can often predict when the child will have pain after days of increased activity
- Children are often more moody or tired when experiencing growing pains
If you suspect your child may have growing pains it is always worth visiting your GP to rule out any other conditions, particularly if the pain is only on one side or is accompanied by any swelling. Once your doctor gives you the ‘all clear’ your mind will probably turn to ways you can help to relieve the pain for your child, if, like me, you would prefer to use more natural methods here is a list of remedies I have found helps my little girl.
1. Warm Baths
This is almost a fail safe when my daughter suffers from growing pains, we have found that using the warmest water that she can tolerate can often completely ease the pains, particularly if we use a relaxation bath milk as the pains tend to keep her awake and she often needs extra help to fall back to sleep. Our current favourite is Weleda Lavender Bath Milk which I actually buy for myself as a special treat to help me unwind after a long hard day of mothering and work! I love anything with lavender in and think it really does have magical relaxation properties.
2. Vitamin D Supplements
We have recently started to take Vitamin D supplements as a whole family. In a shocking recent piece of research (3) looking at children with growing pains it was found that only 6% of the children had normal vitamin D levels, so it seems that the pain may in part be linked to Vitamin D levels.
3. Massage (& Arnica)
I have been a fan of massage for years, both for myself and my children, I have massaged all of my babies and in 2007 trained to teach the techniques to parents. Massage is great for calming and relaxation and also for easing pains in sore muscles. My daugter loves her massages and they have now become part of her bedtime ritual. When she is having growing pains we like to use Weleda Arnica Massage Oil. As a qualified homeopath I love arnica (THIS PREVIOUS ARTICLE of mine covers the use of arnica during and after birth) and its symptom picture of “soreness, lameness and bruising” is a great fit for growing pains. If my daughter is really suffering I will give her an Arnica 200C pillule in water, but in most cases I usually just use Weleda’s massage oil. It has a wonderful heady, herby, relaxing scent (that reminds me of the clary sage and geranium blend I used in labour) and has magical warming qualities, a bit like a gentler, more natural ‘deep heat’.
4. Relaxation Techniques
As a trained hypnotherapist I am a big fan of using relaxation techniques with children. I often talk my daughter through a relaxing visualisation, or we use breathing techniques to help her to calm down. Sometimes we also use Relax Kids CDs or the ToddlerCalm Toddler Relaxation CD, which is her current favourite to fall asleep to.
5. Chiropractic Treatment
We haven’t yet tried chiropractic treatment for growing pains, but I’m a great fan for general care of babies and children, all of my children have been checked out and three of them treated by a chiropractor for related birth issues and glue ear and we’ve always had great success. A case study in 2011 (4) reported success with managing growing pains, so hopefully more research is in the pipeline!
I hope you find these ideas helpful and that your little one’s growing pains soon pass. Please let me know if you have any other tips I haven’t mentioned here!
1. Goodyear-Smith F, Arroll B (2006). “Growing pains: Parents and children need reassuring about this self limiting condition of unknown cause”. BMJ 333 (7566): 456–7.doi:10.1136/bmj.38950.463877.80. PMC 1557982. PMID 16946319.