My 6-year-old gets pains in her legs at bedtime that I think are growing pains. My mum says I also had them as a child. I give my daughter paracetamol, which seems to help. Is there anything else that can be done about growing pains? R.R.
Not much is really known about what causes growing pains except that they have nothing to go with actual growth spurts. Their more accurate name is benign idiopathic nocturnal limb pains of childhood, but that's too long, so we'll stick with growing pains.
In general, these are deeply aching pains in the thigh, shin, or calf that come on at bedtime, or even wake kids from sleep. They are not associated with anything bad, and go away by themselves as the child enters early adolescence.
They are common, affecting a third of all kids between 3 and 13, and often recur. Sometimes there is a known trigger, such as heavy exercise or social stress, but most cases seem to come and go as they please. Paracetamol is a common treatment, accompanied by massage, warm packs, cuddling and distraction.
From a doctor's point of view, the main features that separate growing pains from more serious conditions are that growing pains occur only at night, involve both legs, and don't cause joint pain.
They are not associated with factors such as fever or decreased appetite and are never the cause of a limp.
If any of these red flags occur, it's time to see a GP, who will consider things such as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, osteomyelitis (bone infection), and leukemia, in addition to the more common causes of paediatric musculoskeletal aches and strains. But if it turns out to be just growing pains, the outcome is uniformly good and the symptoms fade away with time.