As a child I used to suffer terribly from growing pains. I would wake up in the middle of the night and just cry out for my parents, so I understand how painful they can be. This is why when my five-year-old starting getting them I wanted to get to the bottom of what they are and how I could help him.
There are steps you can take to lessen your child's pain, but first it's important to know what you're dealing with.
What are they?
"Growing pains are pains that occur in both legs, often the thighs, calves or behind the knees," says Dr. Nirit Bernhard a staff physician at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. "They occur in kids aged four to 12, often in the evening or at night and they can sometimes wake kids up from sleep but the pains should not last until the morning," she explains.
And while we know that, despite their name, they aren't actually caused by growth, we don't know what causes them, says Dr. Bernhard.
Thankfully while their cause is a mystery there are steps you can take to help alleviate and possibly prevent them. Dr. Bernhard recommends:
1. massaging your child's legs,
2. treating the sore spots with warm packs
3. giving your child a dose of an analgesic like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
One factor that is not known to cause them is diet, says Dr. Bernhard, who explains that growing pains are not associated with a deficiency in micronutrients.
Yoga to the rescue?
If your little one has been experiencing these pains, it's also worth trying out some preventative yoga moves, says Toronto yoga instructor Annabel Fitzsimmons.
She suggests doing the following poses before bed:
1. Seated forward bend (or single-legged forward bend);
2. bow pose;
3. child's pose;
4. cat-cow sequence (table-top position);
5. downward dog.
"Growing pains are felt in the muscles, not the joints," she explains, "and these poses provide a targeted stretch for most of the major muscle groups."
It might be the middle of the night, but it's worth unrolling the yoga mat when your child is in the midst of a growing pain episode, too.
"Practising the sun salutation sequence slowly a few times can be helpful for children experiencing growing pains," suggests Fitzsimmons. She explains that the poses that make up the sun salutation series warm up and stretch all areas of the body, and also get your child to focus on the breath, which gives them something to think about other than the pain. This also encourages circulation and relaxation, which hopefully helps them get ready to fall back to sleep!
"Alternately," she says, "legs up the wall and child's pose with arms outstretched are two gentle and restorative poses that may be also effective." These last two should help stretch out and relax the muscles, she explains.
When to call the doctor?
Dr. Bernhard says to talk to your child's doctor if your little one experiences any of the following symptoms alongside growing pains: redness, swelling or warmth of the joints or legs.
Parents should also check in with the doctor if the pain is mostly on one side, keeps the child up all night, interferes with their daily functioning and if the pains are associated with fevers, rashes or general malaise, she says.
The good news is kids eventually grow out of growing pains, but hopefully these tips will help make your child feel better before that time comes.