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Growing pains & what to do about them

While growing pains may be common, it doesn’t mean your child needs to go through that to grow up! Find out what causes them and what you can do about them!

Ah…growing pains. Your feet hurt. Your legs hurt. Your knees hurt. Who knew growing up would be painful? On top of that, you are told to bear with it, and that it’s all part of growing up and it will go away eventually. Growing pains are very common, affecting about 6 out of 10 kids, but just because they are common, it doesn’t make them normal. And, definitely, it doesn’t qualify growing pains to be a norm.

“Growing pains are common, but not normal.”

We have seen many school-aged kids. Parents are often surprised to hear that growing pains are, in fact, not normal. 

So, what are growing pains actually?

Let’s look at first how our body grows taller. Our bones lengthen as we grow. Our muscles, on the other hand, don’t grow in length, so as the bones grow longer, the muscles get stretched. This increases muscle tension – that’s why we often find ourselves a lot less “flexible” once we passed our childhood years.

Growing pains typically manifest when kids go through a growth spurt. During a growth spurt, the lengthening of the bones is so rapid that the muscles can’t catch up and stretch out effectively. When this happens, the muscles will tighten up and fatigue quickly. Overtime, tender lumps, known as trigger points, develop in the muscles. Trigger points then cause pain at different parts of the feet and legs. Essentially, growing pains are a muscle overuse in growing kids. 

Which body parts are commonly affected?

Common presentations in the lower limb are the heels, legs, knees and hips. For example, heel pain is extremely common in kids. It occurs as a result of a tight Achilles muscle (a leg muscle) and abductus hallucis muscle (an arch muscle), both of which attach to the heel. Knee pain, on the other hand, is often associated with a tight quadricep muscle at the front of the thigh. The gluteus muscles, a very big muscle group that controls hip movements, are commonly affected as well, leading to hip pain. Hence, depending on which muscle group is overused, pain will manifest at different parts of the lower limb. 

Who are more at risk?

While growing pains are common, they don’t affect everyone. So, what makes one kid get it and the other not? It all comes down to the biomechanics of individual kids. Almost all affected kids are heavy pronators. What does that mean, you may ask? Pronation is a term that describes the rolling in of the ankle and the foot. Characteristics of pronation include medial ankle bulging, splaying of the toes, and collapse of the foot arch.

Foot posture and its relation to hip pain

Photo courtesy of Healthwise, Incorporated.

Pronation is a normal and important element in gait, but problems arise when there is too much of it. Quite often, kids with growing pains pronate throughout the entire gait, which is not ideal! Excessive pronation means their feet are not functioning effectively, and to compensate for that, the rest of the lower limb will have to work much harder. This eventually leads to muscle overuse. Combined with the rapid stretching that occurs with growing, the leg muscles become really tight and fatigue easily. This, then, becomes what we all know as growing pains.

How should we treat growing pains?

To treat growing pains, it is paramount to treat the underlying cause, excessive pronation. We will first look at the footwear to make sure they are strong and supportive enough (click HERE to read our blog post on school shoe shopping). Then, we will fit them with orthotics to help control the amount of pronation and improve the function of their feet.

In the meantime, children with growing pains should set aside at least 15 minutes a day to stretch out the affected muscles. Your podiatrist will be able to advise on the appropriate exercises and techniques.

How long will it take for the pain to go away?

The great thing about kids is that their body recovers really quickly. Sometimes the pain can be completely resolved within a week of wearing the orthotics and supportive shoes. Some may take a little bit longer and need to be more diligent with their stretching exercises. However, you can expect your children to be running around again in no time!

Growing up should be enriching. Make sure your kids are experiencing all facets of growing, pain free – for their feet and legs at least.

Take the pain out of growing

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