A long time ago, a myth was told about growing pains. And then it spread. And somehow, it’s stuck around. So today, we’re setting the record straight and telling you the medical, scientific truth about growing pains.
"You’ve just got to wait it out, there’s nothing you can really do about growing pains."
There it is - the myth. The idea that growing pains just happen, that they’re a natural part of growth, and that you’ve just got to watch your kids on the sideline of their favourite sports, or upset at night because of the pain, without being able to do anything about it. Especially when the truth is that…
Growing pains ARE very much manageable - and we can help!
Our podiatrists work with kids to get them out of pain and back to the sports they love. For some kids with mild growing pains, we’ve achieved this in weeks. Others may take a couple of months. Either way, the care we provide is not painful, not invasive and doesn’t include any sitting around, hoping and waiting. Before we dive into the how, let’s quickly get up to speed with the what. More specifically…
What are growing pains?
Picture this. Your bones and muscles are both growing. If your bone grows longer, but your muscle stays the same size, then it will be very tight. If it’s very tight, it’s going to continue to be tense and ‘pull’ at the area where the end of the tendon attaches to the bone. (To clarify, all muscles have tendons at their ends to attach to bone).
Now, the way that bones grow is through ‘growth plates’. A growth plate is an area close to the end of every bone, where new bone is added to, so the bone lengthens. When you reach maturity, these growth plates close to form solid bone. While the bones are still growing, however, these growth plates are more vulnerable than the strong solid bone. So when the tight tendons constantly pull at the bone ends, the growth plates can become irritated, damaged, inflamed and painful.
That right there, folks is growing pains. Your bones and muscles tend to grow at a slightly varied rate, and this happens. Muscles in the feet and legs are constantly being used (and so ‘pulled’) with every step, and more so when we run and are physically active. This is why growing pains tend to come on or be at their worst during or after exercise. It’s also why you will eventually grow out of them - when your muscles catch up to your bones - but that may take months, and in some cases, years.
When we talk about growing pains in kids, there are three primary types we work with, in order from the most common to the least.
1. Sever’s Disease
Before you worry about the term ‘disease’ - don’t. Sever’s is actually a temporary growth-related condition that affects the back of the heels. It’s what most people refer to as traditional ‘growing pains’. The heel bone grows at a faster rate than the Achilles tendon, and so pain and tension develops at the back of the heel at the growth plate.
Your child may have Sever’s if… they’re aged 7-17, report having heel pain that worsens or comes on during or after physical activity, you see them clutching their heel, they feel better when wearing higher heeled shoes (like school shoes) compared to soccer boots.
2. Osgood Schlatter’s Disease
Again, not a disease. Just a temporary (but painful) growth-related condition. Instead of affecting your heels, however, it affects the knees. Specifically, the area just below the knee where the patellar tendon (the one that comes down across the kneecap) attaches to the shin bone (tibia). Pain can be exacerbated by activities that bend the knee, including running, as the tendon repeatedly pulls on the bone by the tibial growth plate.
3. Iselin’s Syndrome
While we aren’t sure why this one is classed as a syndrome while the other two are diseases, what we are sure of is that this is another ‘growing pain’ on the outer section of the middle of your foot. Specifically, at the base of the long bone (metatarsal) of your little/fifth toe, where a tendon from a muscle we don’t expect you to remember (peroneus brevis) attaches to. If you move your hand along the outer border of your foot and feel that bump halfway through - that’s the area.
Your little one may feel pain along the outside of their foot, swelling in the area, and may limp or try walking on the inside of their foot as a result. Again, the pain will worsen with physical activity and improve with rest.
How do you treat growing pains?
We treat growing pains by removing the cause of the pain - the tight muscles. No - not physically remove it - but we work with your child to help lengthen the specific tight musculature. Without a tense and tight muscle to pull on the bone, there is nothing to irritate the growth plate, and so no reason for the pain to start.
We also use other measures to help reduce the strain from the area - like orthotics. If we take Sever’s for example (growing pains at the back of the heel), by adding a heel lift to an orthotic and elevating the heel, the strain on the Achilles is reduced with every step.
We help kids at both ends of the ‘growing age’ spectrum - from 7 to 17, and get to the root of the problem - not just diagnosing the problem, but identifying all of the contributing factors, including foot posture, gait (the way they walk), footwear and more.