Leg Pain in Children: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment and Growing Pains

It can be due to multiple causes, ranging from mild and temporary conditions to serious medical conditions.

Leg pain in children often prompts a visit to the doctor.

As a parent or caregiver, you need to know when to worry about a child’s leg pain. Clues to the cause of a child’s leg pain include the severity of the pain, the accompanying symptoms, and the duration of the pain.

Children experience night pains which are known as growing pains, bone growth occurs at night and is common in children, sometimes causing pain that disrupts sleep patterns.

During these growth periods, children often complain of leg pain at night. Most often, the growing pains will feel like a sharp throbbing pain.

The pain may occasionally even be strong enough to wake the child from sleep. The pain can last between one and 15 minutes. A gentle massage on the affected area helps reduce pain.

Periodic leg pain

Some causes of pain in a child’s legs are not serious and will go away on their own. For example, growing pains are leg pains that occur from time to time, usually in children 3 to 10 years of age.

The growing pains are usually brief, though recurring, and often occur in the calves or thighs at night.

Common treatments include massage, heat, and mild pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin). If the pain in the legs is only on one side or if there is pain in the joints, it is probably not painful for growth and should be checked by your child’s doctor.

Pain that is severe or rapidly getting worse

When your child suddenly complains of severe leg pain, there are several possible causes. The pain may be due to an injury, such as a sprain or broken bone.

The injuries are often obvious, but sometimes they only cause subtle symptoms, such as a slight limp or slight swelling. A developing infection in a child’s ankle, knee, hip, or leg bones is another cause of severe pain.

In this case, the pain usually progressively worsens in a short time and often causes lameness. If leg pain is severe, worsens, or causes lameness, get an immediate medical evaluation.

Pain that remains

Leg pain that doesn’t go away is cause for concern. Inflammatory conditions like juvenile arthritis and lupus often cause multiple joint pain, morning stiffness, and accompanying symptoms such as fever and rash.

Tumors in the bones of the leg can also cause persistent pain and tenderness, which is usually worse at night and is often accompanied by fever and weight loss.

Leg pain lasting more than 3 weeks, especially if accompanied by other symptoms, should be evaluated by your child’s doctor immediately.

Are there sore legs that keep your child awake at night?

Growing pains are cramping, sore muscle aches that some preschoolers and tweens feel in both legs.

The pain usually occurs in the late afternoon or at night. But it can cause your child to wake up in the middle of the night.

Growing pains usually start in early childhood, around 3 or 4 years of age. They tend to attack again in children ages 8 to 12.

Despite the name ” growing pains, ” there is no firm evidence that growing pains are related to growth spurts.

Causes of growing pains

If you and your child are losing sleep from growing pains, you may wonder why they happen and how to help your child. The legs and knees are often the areas that hurt, although growing pains can affect the arms as well.

Growing pains are one of the most common concerns you hear from a pediatrician. They are often the main reason parents schedule an office visit.

These concerns are generally raised by parents during well-child appointments, although occasionally parents will schedule separate office visits.

The strange thing is that what we call growing pains are not actually growth related. But they affect children as they get older, which generally affects preschool-age and school-age children.

Instead, growing pains may simply be muscle aches from strenuous childhood activities that can wear down your child’s muscles. These activities include running, jumping, and climbing.

Growing pains seem to be more common after a child has a particularly full day of sports.


Growing pains are different for everyone. Some children have a lot of pain, others don’t. Most children do not have pain every day.

They can experiment for months or even years. Most children get over growing pains within a few years.

The pain is usually felt in the late afternoon and evening, just before dinner time and before bedtime. Leg pains can hurt so much that they can wake your child from sleep.

If your child seems perfectly fine in the morning, don’t be too quick to think he was faking it. The growing pains disappear in the morning. They generally do not interfere with a child’s ability to play sports or be active.

Generally, growing pains are felt in both legs, especially in the front of the thighs, the back of the legs (calves), or behind the knees.

Children who have growing pains are also more likely to have headaches and abdominal pain.

How are growing pains diagnosed?

Lab studies and X-rays will not help your doctor diagnose growing pains, although the pictures can help rule out other more serious conditions.

It is a clinical diagnosis that comes after an office visit and discussion with the child and the parent.

The intensity and frequency of the growing pains varies. They can range from minor pain to severe muscle cramping. But there are common factors you can expect to see:

They occur at night or at night. Your child may have pain in both legs or arms (although they may have pain in one arm or leg).

The pain almost always includes the legs. If there is pain in the arms, it usually adds to the pain in the legs. They are often intense enough to wake your child up.

They usually occur in the legs and last five to 20 minutes, there could be multiple nights between episodes, or it could happen several nights in a row.

A doctor can usually diagnose growing pains by examining your child and asking questions about his medical history and symptoms. That is why it is important to see the doctor if you think your child has growing pains or pain in the limbs.

Blood tests and X-rays are usually not needed in this case.

When to rule out growing pains

There is no “typical” case of growing pains. But there are some symptoms that you will not see with this diagnosis. Another condition is likely at work if:

  • The pain is persistent and continues to get worse. Your child’s pain persists throughout the day.
  • The pain is clearly localized around a joint or joint inflammation that is evident as redness, swelling, or stiffness.
  • Pain prevents your child from being active. If you notice any of these signs, you should follow up with your pediatrician so he or she can assess your child’s condition.

How are they treated?

Treatment for growing pains depends on how much pain your child is in. The following things can ease discomfort and help your child feel better:

1. Think carefully before giving pain relievers

If the pain doesn’t improve, ask your healthcare provider if it’s okay to give your child an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Ask about the appropriate dose for your child. Aspirin use in children has been linked to a life-threatening illness called Reye’s syndrome.

When your child wakes up in pain, it is tempting to reach for a children’s pain reliever. But in most cases, pain medications won’t work fast enough to help when growing pains hit.

She points out, however, that ibuprofen and other over-the-counter pain relievers can help if your child often has episodes several nights in a row. In that case, your doctor may recommend giving you a dose of pain reliever before bed after the first episode.

You may notice that your child is grumpier or more tired than usual. Or sometimes the pain can come on after your child has a particularly active day.

Your doctor may suggest medication before bedtime when he sees signs of an impending episode, especially if your child is experiencing severe growing pains.

2. Try giving a relaxing massage

Massaging the legs. Stretch your leg muscles. This can be difficult for younger children.

Placing a warm washcloth or heating pad on the sore leg. Be careful not to burn the skin and do not wear it during sleep.

However, when the pains suddenly increase, the best treatment is to comfort your child.

Reassure your child by gently massaging or rubbing the arms or legs. This often helps relieve pain, and is calming and can help minimize sleep disruption for both of you.

What can you expect the day after an episode?

If your child is having a painful night, he may notice a bit of a bad mood in the morning due to lack of sleep. However, there is no need to withhold your child from his normal activities.

Some parents may see more episodes of growing pains when their child is really active. But he doesn’t recommend restricting activities to prevent growing pains. It can’t be avoided by limiting your child’s activities, and you want your child to be active for good health.

Myths and facts about growing pains

People used to believe that growing pains flared up when a child’s bones grew at a faster rate than his tendons. That theory has been disproved, but doctors don’t know what causes them.

Growing pains do not occur during periods of faster growth and they do not always occur in growth spots.

They may be related to fatigue, postural differences, changes in physical activity, and psychological stress , but we’re not sure.

This is what we know:

They are equally common among boys and girls. They can run in families, they are not a sign of something more serious. They are painful, but they are temporary; usually they are gone in adolescence.

Causes of leg pain in children

There is no definitive evidence as to why this condition occurs in children, but some possible factors that contribute to leg pain in children are:

Incomplete nutrition : children require more nutrition than adults especially calcium, iron and vitamin D, which are extremely important for healthy growth.

However, some children do not get enough nutrient intake in their diet, which can lead to growing pains or leg pain.

Fatigued Leg Muscles – Children engage in a large number of physical activities that can cause their leg muscles to work and fatigue. This can also lead to leg pain while resting at night.

Incorrect posture: Some children follow inappropriate postures while walking and running. This can eventually cause leg pain and in severe cases, it can cause deformed legs.

Leg Pain in Children Due to Restless Leg Syndrome – Some children may face this medical condition where the legs feel restless, which can lead to continued movement of the legs. This also makes the legs quite painful.

When to worry about leg pain in children?

In most cases, these pains do not require medical intervention and are easily cured. However, sometimes children’s leg pain can become severe and requires immediate medical attention.

To identify these scenarios, parents need to monitor the symptoms shown below in order to get to the emergency room when any of these symptoms are observed. The symptoms to check are:

  • The pain persists all day and does not go away in the morning.
  • Joint pain
  • Presence of fever and chills.
  • Difficulty walking.
  • Limp very often.
  • The child is fatigued and less active.

The pain in the injury remains even after a considerable period of time.

Shin pain

Unlike growing pains, shin splints are a medical condition that can affect both children and adults. It is often seen in younger athletes who regularly engage in strenuous physical activities.

Shin splints occur when the muscles that are attached to the inner or outer side of the tibia become inflamed. Symptoms can include pain around the tibia, which is generally worse at the start of any physical activity such as running.

If ignored, pain can occur at any time, not just when doing physical activities; this occurs after significant damage has been suffered.

There are a few ways that you can reduce pimple pain. First of all, it is just doing light exercise, preferably without weight, such as swimming. This helps the muscles to exercise but without the additional weight load on the lower leg.

As a short-term solution, ice packs can help reduce muscle inflammation. Apply an ice pack regularly for 2-3 days and see if it helps.

Be sure to wear supportive shoes that don’t contribute to leg pain. In some cases, your pediatrician may recommend braces.

If your child complains of leg pain and you are not sure what the cause is, consult a trusted children’s pediatrician and get a professional opinion. A specialized children’s pediatrician will be able to determine the symptoms and cause of your child’s pain and provide you with a personalized treatment plan.

When should I call the doctor?

A medical evaluation is needed if your child complains of moderate to severe leg pain, wakes up at night due to pain, or cannot bear weight.

Also, leg pain accompanied by fever or weight loss warrants a visit to the doctor as soon as possible, as does leg pain accompanied by redness or tenderness.

When deciding whether to call the doctor, it is important to remember that growing pains are almost always felt in both legs. Pain that is only in one leg can be a sign of a more serious condition.

It’s also important to remember that growing pains affect the muscles, not the joints. And they do not cause lameness or fever.

Call your child’s doctor or nurse if leg pain occurs with the following symptoms. They are not symptoms of growing pains, but your doctor will need to examine your child and perform tests:

Injury, such as a fall, fever, loss of appetite, lameness or difficulty walking , rash, red, hot, painful and swollen joints, tiredness, weakness, weight loss. And of course, call your doctor if you have any other concerns.

The diagnosis of growing pains follows the following diagnostic measures:

Physical exam to diagnose leg pain in children : This involves analysis of existing symptoms. The doctor also checks for pain, swelling, tenderness, bruising, and the location of pain related to the joints.

Analysis of the patient’s history to detect the cause of pain in the legs of children : Analysis of the patient’s history is very important to detect previous injuries, systemic infections or the possibility of arthritis in children.

X-ray analysis for leg pain in children : This is mainly done to ensure that the bones and joints are fine and that there is no deformity.

Management of leg pain in children

The main concern of parents is to alleviate their child’s suffering from leg pain or growing pains. Most cases can be cured at home with pain relievers, therapy, and mild exercises. These measures include:

Pain Medications : Mild pain relievers such as acetaminophen can be taken to provide temporary relief from leg pain in children.

Aromatherapy to control leg pain in children : rosewood, lavender and chamomile essential oils have a calming and analgesic effect. Therefore, parents can give their children hot baths with these oils, to relieve pain in the legs.

Homeopathy Treatment : There are homeopathic medicines like Calcarea phosphoricum and Mag phosphoricum available that can control leg cramps. These also provide the child with inorganic salts that tend to make up for the child’s nutritional deficiencies.

Heat Application : Heat therapy through heating pads and hot baths help relieve pain and relax your legs.

Yoga and Exercises : There are various leg exercises and stretches in yoga that help relieve stress on the legs and control pain in children’s legs.

Leg pain or growing pains are common in children and are often related to their growth phase. There are no studies to prove it, but observations suggest that when the child grows, these pains gradually disappear.

These pains are often characterized by cramps in the back of the legs, especially in the lower thighs and calves.

The pain tends to cause problems essentially during the late afternoons and nights and wears off in the morning; therefore, it keeps children awake all night.

Leg pain in children can be effectively managed at home through medication and mild exercises, but in the event of an underlying deformity or severe pain condition, medical assistance becomes unavoidable.