Growing Pains or Something More?
When you think about signs you expect to see in your child during puberty, pain in their legs is usually not one of them.
About half of all 8-12 year old adolescents experience pain in their legs in the evening or pain that might even wake them up from their sleep. This pain is referred to as “growing pains”. The term was coined in the late 1800’s, but it is still an accurate description of what your child is experiencing. It is not clear, even today, what exactly is happening in the legs to cause this pain, but it is simply an occasional pain that will go away in a few years.
During puberty, your active adolescent will experience different pains.
There are other types of pain adolescents might experience that are more concerning and can affect growth, though. It is interesting to know what is happening inside your child’s bones during puberty.
In this illustration from my book, I’m A Girl, Hormones!, look for small, blue patches of cartilage near the joints of the bones called growth plates. Although this is an illustration of a girl, growth plates look the same in boys.
During puberty, growth hormone stimulates growth plates to grow and the edges gradually become bone. That is how the bone grows longer. Because growth plates are made of cartilage, they are weaker than bone and so are vulnerable to injury. This is why physicians take special care of a child who is complaining of pain after an injury or trauma that may have affected a growth plate. It could have an effect on the growth of that bone in the future.
If the pain is in both legs and occurs in the evening or during their sleep, it is likely growing pains. Remember that growing pains usually don’t happen every day and they will go away in a few years. A little gentle massage of the muscles might help relieve the pain. If you are concerned, a visit to your pediatrician will reassure you that everything is okay.
But if the pain is the result of a trauma to a leg, only the injured leg will be painful and may cause the child to limp. This pain is a message that you need to see your pediatrician and rule out a fracture that might damage a growth plate.
Children go through lots of changes during puberty and will have many different new sensations to become familiar with. Luckily, this one is only temporary!
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