rowing pains are formally
known as “benign idiopathic
nocturnal limb pains of
childhood”. These are the
sharp, throbbing pains in the thighs, calves,
back of knees and arms, which occur in
to 40 per cent of children. The pain is
in themuscles, not the joints, and is not
accompanied by any swelling, tenderness
or fever.
Although it’s easy to confuse the
symptoms, growing pains and pains
associated with growth spurts are entirely
different. The pain that occurs with a
growth spurt is usually more specific
and is typically under the kneecap
Osgood-Schlatter disease) or in the
heel (Sever’s disease). This is where bone
growth outpaces the muscle tendon and
flexibility, causing stress on the certain
growth areas of the bone. The pain will
be more apparent during or after any
physical activity.
Growing pains are slightly more
common in girls than in boys, and usually
occur in cycles of one to three months,
most commonly between the ages of
three and five years, and then again
between the ages of eight and 12 years.
Seventy per cent of children with growing
pains have a parent or sibling with a
history of growing pains.
We don’t really know why some
children are affected by this pain while
others aren’t; there is no link to dietary
deficiencies or growth spurts, and
equally, no evidence that children with
rapid growth or tall children have more
growing pains than others. Additionally,
these pains don’t generally occur at the
growth points, nor affect the growth of
a child who experiences them. Some
studies have shown some similarities
among sufferers, including lower pain
tolerance, slightly lower bone density,
and a higher likelihood of experiencing
headaches and abdominal pain. But,
there’s really no definitive answer.
Pain relief
Here are some tips to help relieve the
discomfort at home:
Place a heating pad or hot water
bottle over the area of pain for at least
Gently massage the area with cream,
such as Tiger Balm or something similar.
Gently stretch the quadriceps (the
large muscle on the front of the thigh),
the hamstrings and calf muscles. For
optimum results, stretch after a bath or
shower and hold each stretch for more
than two minutes.
When your child is over-tired, halt
strenuous activities.
Consider braces and orthotics for
better alignment – they are sometimes
prescribed to give support to overused
foot and knee muscles.
If your child is finding the pains
terribly uncomfortable, please visit your
doctor. Before your visit, be sure to note
the answers to the following questions to
help your doctor pinpoint the problem
and rule out other causes:
Where does the pain occur?
What time of day is it most prevalent?
How long does the pain last?
What best relieves the pain?
Does your child complain of aching legs, but show
no apparent signs of injury? If so, they might be
experiencing growing pains, writes physiotherapist
Melanie Potgieter
Does your child have difficulty falling
asleep or wake up from the pain?
Is your child participating in any new
Are there any other symptoms?
When you’re awake in the middle of
the night massaging your child’s legs, it’s
worth remembering that these pains are
real and that your child will eventually
grow out of them. But, for the moment,
they will need your sympathy as much
as they need a heat pack and gentle
Melanie Potgieter is a physiotherapist at
Island Health Family Practice.