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Posted by Dr. Monica Wonnacott | February 27, 2016

Is It Growing Pains?

Again, your child is complaining of her legs hurting. You think, “it’s probably growing pains,” but in the back of your mind you can’t dismiss the idea that it could be a tumor and you’re ignoring it. “Mother worry” strikes again!

For those who may not know, growing pains are the pains you feel in your legs when you go through periods of rapid growth. Some kids never really complain of it, but others are plagued by it. Growing pains are a really common complaint. The pain is legit, so be sympathetic to your kiddo.

Hallmarks of growing pains:

  1. Location: Bone growth happens at the growth plates, which are located at the ends of long bones. So, the child typically complains of the knees or ankles hurting (this is where those long bones–the femur, tibia, and fibula–come to an end).
  2. Time of day: Kids usually complain at the end of day. This is because that is when they finally stop and slow down. They then notice the pain that has been generated by the extra stress put on the bones from the day’s activities. Usually they feel better in the morning.
  3. Both sides: Growing pains affect both legs. The pain may not be in both legs at the same time, but you’ll notice the complaints eventually involve both sides.
  4. Nature of the pain: Growing pains are aching and throbbing in nature (not stabbing).
  5. Normal-looking legs: When you look at your child’s legs they should look normal. Growing pains do not cause swelling or discoloration. The joints and legs should move entirely normal.

Worry (and take your kid in) if the pain doesn’t fit those criteria (i.e., location: mid-bone, time: middle of the night, side: always the same side, nature: stabbing, look: swollen or discolored in appearance). Also, be more concerned if your child has associated systemic symptoms like fever or weight loss.

Hopefully, this can save you an unnecessary trip to the doctor. After all, who has extra time and money for unnecessary things? And more importantly, I hope to put your mind at ease. Because as parents, less worry is priceless.

-Photos courtesy of