Children can sometimes wake up at night complaining of leg pain.  Sometimes with a little bit of soothing they will go right back to sleep.  In the morning there is no mention of leg pain and they seem fine.  What could these mysterious nighttime leg pains be? 

Most likely they are growing pains.  Growing pains are leg pain and soreness that happens at night.  It is typical for children between the ages of 3-12.  Some children may have discomfort in the late afternoon right before bedtime, while others may be woken up by the leg pain in the middle of the night.  Growing pains affect 2 out of every 5 children.  


Causes of Growing Pains

Growth does not hurt.  So when their bones are growing they are not getting the pain from that.  Children may even experience growing pains in between big bursts of growth.  The cause of these pains is unknown, but there are a lot of theories. 

  • One theory is that the muscles, tendons, and ligaments are all growing in your child too.  This growing and stretching can cause some discomfort. 
  • Another theory is that it is just pain from a full day of running, jumping, and playing. 
  • If restless leg syndrome runs in the family, that condition can cause pain in the legs. 
  • Psychological issues, or even low vitamin D can cause leg pains. 


Symptoms Of Growing Pains

Growing pains usually cause pain in the thighs, calves, shins, and behind the knees.  Both legs are usually both sore at the same time. 

Some children may have arm growing pains along with leg growing pains.  Only arm growing pains is not a thing, so if your child is complaining of arm pain a lot you will want to make an appointment with your doctor. 

The pain in their legs will start from late afternoon into the night.  Growing pains won’t happen consistently.  You may have weeks, months, or even years between when your child complains of growing pains.  


Diagnosing Growing Pains

There is no test that your doctor can do to diagnose growing pains.  Your doctor is likely to think your child’s pain in their legs is growing pains if they are otherwise healthy and the leg pain gets better with either massage, heat, or over the counter medication.  If your child remains active during the day and doesn’t complain of any pain during the day.  If your child has a normal physical exam your doctor will most likely think their pain is growing pains.  

If the pain in your child’s legs is persistent and still present in the mornings then you may want to go to the doctor.  Other reasons to see the doctor are if the pain in their legs stops normal activity.  If the pain they are having is in their joints.  Arthritis can affect more than just old people.  Pain that is associated with injury should also be examined.  If the leg pain is also combined with other symptoms such as swelling, redness, tenderness, fever, limping, rash, loss of appetite, weakness, and fatigue. 

Your doctor may want to do some blood tests, or X-rays to rule out other conditions that could cause leg pain in your child.  


Growing Pain Treatment

There is no specific treatment for growing pains.  It is mostly just getting your child to where they are comfortable and the pain isn’t bothering them too much. 

One thing you can do for your child is massage their legs.  Gently massaging may help them relax and fall back to sleep.  Other children may just need a cuddle or a hug. 

A heating pad can also be soothing to sore muscles.  Laying your child’s legs on a heating pad at the lowest setting may help them fall asleep.  Once asleep you will want to remove the heating pad. A warm bath in the evening before bed may also help.

Over the counter medications, ibuprofen, Tylenol, or Motrin, can all help with growing pains.  Do not give your child aspirin. 

Stretching during the day may also help.  Ask your doctor for some leg stretches suitable for your child’s age to help them stretch their legs out effectively. 



Growing pains can be a problem for some children.  It can affect their sleep at night.  The good thing is that growing pains are not consistent.  They may last for only a day or two before you have a few weeks, or a month in between when they bother your child. 

If the growing pains stay persistent and are still present in the morning you will want to reach out to your doctor to see if there is something more serious going on.  Massage, heat, and over the counter pain relievers can all be helpful in relieving the pain caused by growing pains.  


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