Q: Our 5-year-old daughter has been complaining of leg pain in the evenings. I suspect she’s having growing pains, but how can I be sure it’s not something more serious?
Many children experience leg pains that are often labeled as “growing pains.” The term “growing pains” is somewhat of a misnomer, since growing is not painful. It is more likely that growing pains are muscle aches rather than bone pain.
When a child complains of leg pain, certain qualities of the pain are classic for benign (harmless) pain that will resolve over time without treatment. Growing pains classically occur in the evening or night and improve with massaging the area. These pains occur more frequently on days of strenuous physical activity and typically affect both legs.
On the other hand, leg pain can sometimes be the result of a more serious problem, such as trauma, arthritis, infection or cancer. Any of the following would warrant a visit with your child’s healthcare provider for a medical evaluation, which may include blood work or X-rays:
• History of trauma to the area
• Fever or fatigue
• Redness, warmth or swelling
• Pain that is consistently in one location
• Pain that limits daytime activities or is associated with a limp
• Joint pain
Growing pains are diagnosed only when more serious medical conditions have been excluded.