Many of us have heard of or even experienced growing pains, but very few know what they actually are – aside from a pain that occurs while we’re still growing. When it comes to the feet and legs of kids and teenagers, there are two types of growing pains we often treat. Pain at the back of the heel (Sever’s Disease) and pain at and just below the knee (Osgood Schlatter Disease).
Note: Growing pains are also mistaken for active kids overusing muscles of the feet and legs to a point where they are very tired, achy and sore. The cause is very different and treatment will vary too. If you’re unsure what your child is experiencing, bring them in for a check with your Podiatrist.
What are growing pains and how are they caused?
Growing pains are caused by tension and strain on the vulnerable part of your bone that is currently growing and lengthening. This vulnerable area is called a growth plate. It is the weakest part of the bone and is weaker than the surrounding soft tissues (tendons, ligaments, muscles). When a muscle or tendon attached to the bone is tight and pulls on the growth plate, it causes pain. Because during growth spurts our bones and muscles may lengthen at slightly different rates, we may end up with a muscle that is very tight for a time (until it lengthens) and so will trigger the pain with every step taken, and particularly with running and physical activity.
What and where exactly are these growth plates?
Growth plates (medically known as epiphyseal plates) are areas of bone located at the ends of long bones in kids. When we reach maturity, these growth plates turn into solid bone and we stop growing. Every long bone (such as our thigh bone, femur, or leg bone, tibia) has at least one growth plate on each end of the bone. New bone is added to these areas by the body while we grow.
What are the symptoms?
Depending on which part of the foot or leg is affected, symptoms can include:
- Sharp, stabbing pain
- Mild, dull aches
- Pain that comes and goes
- Pain that wakes you up at night
- Pain exacerbated by physical activity including running, jumping and sports
What can be done for growing pains?
We often hear from patients and parents who have been told there’s nothing that can be done for growing pains, aside from waiting them out and avoiding activities that trigger the onset of pain.
Thankfully, when it comes to the feet and legs, there definitely are things that can be done to ease the pain and discomfort. Often, we can also reduce the time it takes for the pains to disappear, meaning your kids can get back to doing the things they love.
The best options will depend on your child’s symptoms, but may include:
- Custom prescribed orthotics to keep the foot in a position that places less force from tight muscles onto the bone
- Footwear that supports the foot in the best position and doesn’t add undue stress or tension to the feet and legs
- Pads specific to the area of pain, such as heel raises for pain at the heels
- Stretches that support the affected muscles and bones, working to ease the overall tightness that may be contributing to the painful symptoms
- Strengthening muscles and joints to support a good position of the foot that reduces strain on the affected areas
- Massage (where appropriate) of the affected areas to help with muscle tightness and therefore painful symptoms