Growing Pains: When Should Parents Worry?
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Jeanie Lerche Davis
Like mumps and measles, growing pains are a rite of passage, a sign of
growing up. Most parents take it in stride. "It's just growing pains,"
they tell their crying child.
But what exactly are these pains? Why do some kids get severe pain, while
others get none? Could the pain mean something is really wrong? How can parents
Growing pains typically occur between ages 3 and 7. Doctors say the pain is
triggered when bones grow, stretching the bone's thick covering, explains Larry
Vogler, MD, a pediatric rheumatologist at Emory University School of Medicine
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, these pains have been
linked to particularly active days and not growth. Growing pains are real
discomforts for many children; often growing pains can awaken children from
Some kids are predisposed to getting growing pains. If dad had them, his
child will, too. The pains seem most intense after a day of vigorous jumping
and running. Kids typically feel the pains at night, then they disappear in the
morning. "Be reassuring, give a massage, and give Tylenol with a little
food if you think you need to," Vogler tells WebMD.
If your child develops certain symptoms, it's wise to notify your child's
doctor. Worrisome symptoms that might indicate that something other than
growing pains and something more serious may be going on include:
- Persistent pain, pain in the morning or swelling, tenderness, and redness
in a joint
- Joint pain associated with an injury
- Limping, weakness, or unusual tiredness
If a child wakes up in the morning with leg pains -- then feels relief after
moving around -- it may be juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA), says Thomas J.
A. Lehman, MD, chief of pediatric rheumatology for the Hospital for Special
Surgery at Weill Medical College of Cornell University. Lehman is the author of
It's Not Just Growing Pains.
"Those pains need to be investigated by a doctor," Lehman tells
WebMD. "They should not be simply dismissed. It may not be anything
serious, but it needs to be evaluated."
Arthritis Often Missed
Lehman regularly sees young patients with all types of arthritis, but
especially juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. It's an unpredictable disease with
symptoms that can worsen or disappear without clear reason, he explains. In
general, children with JRA have one or several symptoms including joint pain,
joint swelling, and joint stiffness early in the disease. Most children have
good and bad days.
He's seen it too many times: "Virtually every child with arthritis has
been dismissed as 'just having growing pains,'" Lehman tells WebMD.
"And because proper diagnosis is delayed -- sometimes for months -- there
are irretrievable circumstances."
Most children with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (70% to 90% of them) will
recover without any serious disabilities. But some symptoms can continue into
adulthood, such as stiffness, pain, limits on physical activity, and chronic