Growing Pains

[originally published in KCN, Febuary 2002]

If the mere mention of “Growing Pains” reminds you of the popular 80’s Alan Thicke and Kirk Cameron sitcom, then you probably weren’t one of the select 10-20% that were tagged with this misleading medical diagnosis when you were a child.  Misleading in that, from a physical sense, it doesn’t hurt to grow.  But then, why do children experience this reoccurring “vague leg pain”? — with pain so intense at times that it actually causes some to cry themselves to sleep.

While “growing pains” is an actual accepted medical term, authorities have pretty much agreed that it has nothing to do with bone growth.  The fact is, the medical literature has relatively little to say about it.  The medial journals I ran across almost seemed to dismiss the condition with such statements as, “Growing pains is a common and distressing symptom in children, but has aroused little interest.” (I’m sure the parents whose children suffer from this puzzling affliction would beg to differ).   Nonetheless, they say that growing pains is the most common musculoskeletal complaint in children.

Although misunderstood by many, IT DOES NOT HURT TO GROW.

Growing pains tends to occur in children from 3 to 4 years old up until adolescence until they eventually “grow out of it.” The pain is usually located only in one leg and felt deep in the thigh, knee, or calf.  The child usually experiences the pain at night while in bed and can last (depending on which article you’re reading) anywhere from 10 minutes to one hour.   The pain reoccurs on a regular basis, but not necessarily every night, and will most likely occur after a day of increased activity.  One article I ran across stated that girls seems to be affected more than boys.  Other bodily systemic signs and symptoms are absent and medical testing such as x-rays and blood tests are normal — which tends to make this elusive condition a “diagnosis of exclusion.”  So what causes this “poorly named, nebulous entity?” — as one journal described it?  No one seems to know.  Some suggest overuse and others fatigue.  The standard treatment is essentially  “analgesic measures for the child [such as medication or leg rubs] and reassurance for the parents that a serious condition is not present.”

Funny that none of these medical articles made mention of spinal problems as being an underlying cause.  But seeing how medicine really has nothing to offer this condition aside from an exclusionary diagnosis, it might interest you to know that chiropractors have helped many children with “growing pains.”  We have found that the pain that these kids are experiencing is associated with referred pain from the sacroiliac joint.  The sacroiliac joint is located where the hip meets the spine.  If this joint becomes jammed or misaligned — a pretty easy proposition in the “ruff and tumble” life of a child, not only may the child experience pain in the low back area, but she might also have referred pain to the thigh, knee, or lower leg.  Engaging in increased activities during the day only serves to irritate the maligned joint and thus bring the pain back on.  A gentle chiropractic adjustment to restore proper motion and position back to the offending sacroiliac joint usually does the trick, with the child’s symptoms responding rapidly, if not instantaneously.

Any child who has either been diagnosed with “growing pains,” or who complains of intermittent leg pains in bed at night, should have a thorough checkup with a chiropractor to see if spinal problems are the underlying  cause.  Because if they are, you can forget about that crazy diagnosis and start enjoying the television reruns.

sources used for this article:
Anrig and Plaugher.  Pediatric Chiropractic.  William & Wilkins.  Baltimore.  1998.
Atar et. al.  Growing pains.  Orthop Rev 1991 Feb;20(2):133-6.
Baxter MP, Dulberg C.  “Growing pains” in childhood—a proposal for treatment.  J Pediatr Orthop 1988 Jul-Aug;8(4):402-6.
Bowyer SL, Hollister JR.  Limb pain in childhood.  Pediatr Clin North Am 1984 Oct;31(5):1053-81.
Calabro, et. al.  Growing pains: fact or fiction? Postgrad Med 1976 Feb;59(2):66-72.
Ekbom KA.  Growing pains and restless legs.  Acta Paediatr Scand 1975 Mar;64(2):264-6.
Fysh. Kids Need Chiropractic Too!  “Growing pains”:  a spinal problem?  Pediatric Continuing Education, Palmer College of Chiropractic West.  1993.
Gatterman.  Foundations of Chiropractic Subluxation.  Mosby Year-Book, Inc.  St. Louis.  1995.
Manners P. Are growing pains a myth? Aust Fam Physician 1999 Feb;28(2):124-7.
Macarthur, et. al. Variability in physicians’ reported ordering and perceived reassurance value of diagnostic     tests in children with ‘growing pains’.  Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 1996 Oct;150(10):1072-6.
O’Neill DB, Micheli LJ.  Overuse injuries in the young athlete.  Clin Sports Med 1988 Jul;7(3):591-610.
Peterson H.  Growing pains.  Pediatr Clin North Am 1986 Dec;33(6):1365-72.
Peterson HA. Leg aches. Pediatr Clin North Am 1977 Nov;24(4):731-6.
Sears and Sears.  The Baby Book:  Everything you need to know about your baby— from birth to age two. Little, Brown and Company.  New York.  1993.
Weiner SR.  Growing pains.  Am Fam Physician 1983 Jan;27(1):189-91
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