Once or twice a month, Janet wakes from a deep sleep when eight-year-old Cindy cries out in the wee hours of the morning.

Cindy is not having a bad dream. She‘s experiencing throbbing pain in her calves. Janet goes into Cindy’s room to rub the backs of her daughter’s legs. It helps relieve the pain. Then, together,  they walk to the kitchen for a drink of water and Cindy goes back to bed. Janet makes plans to call the doctor in the morning.

Many children between 3 and 8 years of age experience this type of leg pain, commonly called growing pains.

But, according to the medical community, this type of discomfort may have nothing to do with growing.

Medical experts don’t know why these types of leg pains occur. Some providers think activity during the day leads to overuse, causing the leg muscles to ache in the evening. Others believe it happens because a child has flat feet. Still, others think it’s a side effect of another illness since some children who experience “growing pains” also complain of headaches or stomach pains at the same time.

When are “growing pains” reason for concern?

Most growing pains occur on both sides of the body, in the lower legs below the knees. After the acute pain subsides, there is no stiffness and no lasting effects. There are other types of leg pain that requires medical attention. Call your healthcare provider if your child has leg pain that:

  • Occurs frequently
  • Affects only one leg
  • Leaves the child feeling stiff after a painful episode
  • Affects the joints
  • Is red or hot to the touch

Symptoms like these could point to a more serious condition and need to be seen by a medical provider.

Osgood-Schlatter Disease can affect teens

While common “growing pains” are not clinically associated with growth, Osgood-Schlatter Disease is related to growth spurts. When a teen’s leg bone grows faster than his or her muscles and tendons, it causes pain.

The condition frequently occurs in teens during typical periods of accelerated growth. For boys, this growth spurt usually occurs between 10 and 15 years of age. Since girls mature faster, onset can occur between the ages of 8 and 13. Overuse and physical stress may increase the risk of Osgood-Schlatter Disease. Symptoms include:

  • Pain and limping that increases with exercise
  • Swelling or tenderness near the knee or shin
  • Tight hamstrings and quadriceps

Your orthopedic provider may recommend your child take a break from activity or sporting events. This is often the most effective treatment for Osgood-Schlatter Disease, but you need a diagnosis to be sure.