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Foot and Ankle Problems in Children

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Children Flat Foot Treatment

Growing Pains

Has your child ever complained of pain or achiness in their feet, ankles and legs? One of the most common reasons for this type of pain is what is commonly known as “growing pains”. They may not be exactly what you think they are, but most growing pains respond very well to conservative treatment. Growing pains are one of the more common conditions that we treat in kids. If you think your child might have growing pains, contact us today for an appointment in our Seattle foot and ankle clinic.

The first thing we will do is to rule out other problems. If our exam is normal and your child has no tenderness, redness, limitation of motion or swelling, then we can usually diagnose growing pains.

What are Growing Pains?
Growing pains is a common pain syndrome affecting the legs that occurs in children aged 2 -12 (most common between ages 8 – 12). Pain is often sharp and achy, usually affects both legs and often occurs at night. There is a family history about 20% of the time.

What Causes Growing Pains?
No one is 100% sure, but growing pains do not seem to be caused by bone growth – at least there is no evidence of that. More likely, growing pains seem to be due to overuse of the leg muscles and bone growth centers that occur when kids are active. So do children really have growing pains? The answer is a bit complicated. Kids do have periods of rapid growth. And pain in the feet, ankles and legs can be associated with the growth centers. But again, it does not seem to be the growth itself that causes the pain. More likely it is stress on these areas.

Which Kids are Most Likely to Get Growing Pains?
Growing pains seem to be most likely in two groups. The first is simply kids who are very active. In fact, one study showed that over 78% of growing pains occurred after intensive exercise. In addition, growing pains seem to be more common in kids who have flat feet.

Treatment of Growing Pains The first thing we evaluate when determining treatment is whether or not there is a mechanical problem causing your child’s growing pains. For example, kids who have flat feet often develop growing pains from overuse of the muscles on the inside of the leg that act to support flat feet. In these kids, we can often use either a custom orthotic or a prefabricated orthotic with some inexpensive modifications to reduce the stress on the muscles and eliminate the growing pains. There are other mechanical problems besides flat feet can also cause growing pains and be treated with simple orthotic therapy.

In other situations the problem is not due to foot function. In these cases it is often just overuse that causes the problem. In this case, these treatments often are beneficial:

  • Massage the legs until the pain passes
  • Do stretching exercises several times per day and before bed (we can show you the best stretches)
  • Use warm bath or heating pads to help calm sore muscles
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers can be used, but always consult with your pediatrician first

Rule Out More Serious Problems
The following symptoms are not due to growing pains and could be a sign of more serious problems: Pain that lasts all day, limping, swelling, redness, weakness. If your child is experiencing these problems, have them evaluated.

Growing pains are common in young kids during their years of growth and development. There are often easy ways to treat and prevent growing pains. We specialize in chidlren’s foot problems. If your child is experiencing growing pains, make an appointment for them to see us in our Seattle foot and ankle clinic.

References for Growing Pains
1. Lowe RM, Hashkes PJ. Growing pains: a noninflammatory pain syndrome of early childhood. Nat Clin Pract Rheumatol. 2008 Oct;4(10):542-9. Epub 2008 Sep 2.
2. Pavone V, Growing pains: a study of 30 cases and a review of the literature. J Pediatr Orthop. 2011 Jul-Aug;31(5):606-9.
3. Kaspiris A. Growing pains in children: epidemiological analysis in a Mediterranean population. Joint Bone Spine. 2009 Oct;76(5):486-90. Epub 2009 Sep 29.
4. Evans AM. Relationship between "growing pains" and foot posture in children: single-case experimental designs in clinical practice. J Am Podiatr Med Assoc. 2003 Mar-Apr;93(2):111-7.

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Douglas Hale, DPM & Lawrence Huppin, DPM
Foot and Ankle Center of Washington, Seattle
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