Growing Pains

THIS IS A COMMON COMPLAINT: “My son has several nights a week in which he wakes up repeatedly with sore feet. He says they hurt, especially his toes. I even get him out of bed and walk, but this does not stop the pain”……….

Growing pains are common, especially in children between three and six years of age(but can persist into the early teens). Most of the time it’s really nothing to worry about, and for lack of a better explanation, it’s called “growing pains” or “benign limb pain of childhood”.

Symptoms of growing pains

Typically, the pain is located in the calf or shin area, occurs at night, is aggravated by cold temperature and humidity, and affects both legs and feet (sometimes both at the same time, other times one limb or the other). Often the pain occurs after an active day. When a child presents these symptoms we look for signs of more serious illness such as persistent limping into the day, associated fever, swelling or redness of a particular joint, and pain consistently in one specific limb or joint.

Evaluating children with leg pain

During the medical evaluation, the doctor looks for any of the above signs and symptoms and examines the child. Under normal circumstances, no x-rays or other tests are needed. Fortunately, in most children these worrisome signs or symptoms are absent, and the diagnosis of exclusion of simple growing pains is made (in other words, a serious illness has been ruled out).

Treating growing pains

Once the diagnosis is made, parents are usually relieved and worry less about the problem. In the meantime, putting on socks during cold humid weather may help, as may wearing pajamas that keep the lower leg area warm. Additionally, massaging the affected shin, calf, and foot area may also help alleviate the pain. Explaining to your child that this is not serious will help to decrease his/her anxiety as well. Finally, in cases where the child is really uncomfortable, simple analgesics such as acetaminophen may help.

Parents often try to seek an orthopedic reason, for example, in-toeing or out-toeing of the feet, or seemingly “crooked or curved legs or feet,” and wonder whether special shoes will alleviate the problem. In most children, this is not the case, and special shoes or boots will not help.


Night-time childhood leg, shin, calf, and sometimes foot pain is common. Once, after a medical evaluation, one is sure that there are no other worrisome symptoms or signs present, the diagnosis of growing pains is made. This is not serious and usually goes away on its own.

For more child health-related information: Childhood Illnesses and Conditions

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Pediatrician DR.PAUL Roumeliotis is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. The information provided above is designed to be an educational aid only. It is not intended to replace the advice and care of your child’s physician, nor is it intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. If you suspect that your child has a medical condition always consult a physician.