Growing pains are one of the most common pains that we see and treat in kids. While some mistake growing pains for when active kids overuse the muscles of the feet and legs to a point where they are very tired, achy and sore, this isn’t the case. Others have been told that growing pains aren’t treatable and must be waited out or just put up with – which also couldn’t be further from the truth!
Growing pains affect children aged between 8 and 16 years and get their name because they can only be experienced while they’re still growing, meaning that these pains can’t affect adults. Most often, but not always, the painful symptoms come on during a growth spurt and while it’s often in kids that are active – it’s definitely not always the case
Understanding growing pains
To understand how and why growing pains can develop, you must know that the way that all our bones get bigger as we grow is through areas in the bones called growth plates. These growth plates, medically known as apophyses, these are the areas to which your body adds new bone. As these areas are constantly in ‘development mode, they aren’t as strong as the surrounding bone, meaning that when the bones are placed under strain and tension (like during exercise!), these growth plates are more vulnerable to damage and the painful symptoms that come with them.
While the bones grow, the attaching muscles grow too
While our bones are growing, so are our muscles – and lengthening to keep up and support them both functioning as a healthy and strong team. While our muscles and bones will ideally grow at a similar rate, at times the muscles won’t keep up and the result will be tight muscles that create a pull on the bone – particularly during running, running sports and exercise.
When this tension happens near a growth plate in the bone, the growth plate can become irritated and leave your child with pain and swelling.
Where do growing pains develop?
The knees, the heels and the feet are the three areas in the body where growing pains affect kids most commonly. We help children effectively manage and relieve their symptoms in all three areas, so they can get back to doing the things they love and not sit out entire sports seasons!
Knee pain – Osgood Schlatters disease
Growing pains at the knees involve the irritation of the growth plate at the top of the shin bone. The patellar tendon, which is the one that runs from the front of your thigh, across the knee and attaches to the top of the shin bone, is the one that tends to create the tight pull and affect the neighbouring growth plate.
Symptoms of Osgood Schlatters include pain and swelling when feeling below their kneecap. The symptoms are worsened by running and activities that bend the knee.
Heel pain – Sever’s disease
Growing pains at the heels occur in the very back of the heel, where the growth plate is located, next to the Achilles tendon. As the Achilles is the strongest and largest tendon in the body, if it is tight, it can place massive tension and strain on the back of the heel every time we walk and run. In adults, for some of us it even causes us to lift our heel up early off the ground or be unable to place our heels completely on the ground when the tendon is very tight.
In Sever’s, pain is felt at the back of the heel and may radiate or shoot up the leg. There may be some swelling, and your child may limp when the symptoms are in full swing, until they can get some rest.
Foot pain – Iselin’s disease
Growing pains in the feet occur on the outside-middle edge of the foot. Run your fingers along the outside edge of the foot – if you feel a bony bump around the middle, that’s where your child will feel their painful symptoms, swelling and tenderness. It is the peroneus brevis tendon that travels down the outer leg, across the outer ankle, and attaches to that bony bump (your ‘styloid’) that causes the growth plate irritation in this case. This tends to be the least common growing pain of the three – though we still see it in plenty of children every year!
Is your child experiencing pain in their feet or legs?
Pain is never a normal part of growing up – it’s always an indication that something is wrong – and in most cases, this something can be treated when it has a clear cause – which it definitely does in growing pains. Often, there are a number of factors that contribute to the increased strain from the muscles and tendons – including the structure and function of the feet and legs, footwear, the way they walk, muscle strength, and more.
We’re parents too – and we understand how important it is to get the very best care for your child – and that they can enjoy the experience too! Our podiatry team starts each appointment by understanding exactly what’s going on and causing the pain – and then puts the right care in place to both treat your child’s current symptoms and to prevent the problem from recurring in the future.
We’re here to help. Book your appointment online here or call us on 09 523 2333
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