The term “growing pains” refers to a whole range of muscular and joint pains that occur in children. In very young children, less than six years, the most common sign of having a mechanical foot or leg problem is an unwillingness to play sport or participate in (sometimes very minor) physical activity. Complaints are far more likely to be voiced as “I don’t want to do this”, “Will you carry me?” or “Can we go home now / sit down now” than to be expressed as a complaint of feeling ‘pain’. As the child gets older and heavier, often there will be complaints of tiredness, soreness, pain, night cramps or requests for leg rubs. The majority of these will occur to the long muscles of the leg – especially the calf – and will very often be due to a mechanical problem in the feet called pronation (rolling in, flat feet, collapsed arches).
Foot pronation makes the muscles of the foot and leg work in a way that is less than perfect. For example, the Tibial group of muscles running from the shin bone down to the inside of the arch will be made longer by pronation. This change means that the muscles have to contract harder and work harder to produce the same force. Also, because it is the job of the Tibial muscles to resist the rolling in, they have more work to do. This double disadvantage of more to do and less ability to do it makes the muscles work too hard. This results in what is called an overuse injury which can be experienced as symptoms of night cramps etc. described above.
Some people will tell you that growing pains in children happen because the bones are growing faster than the muscles, but this kind of problem has less to do with growing and more to do with becoming heavier and becoming old enough to experience inflammation and to explain it in the same way adults do. These children with growing pains and night cramps will be the same children who wanted to be carried or sit out activities when very young. Likewise, they will grow up to be the adults who go on to have foot problems because the factors that cause these pains don’t go away by themselves. They compound with increasing weight and age throughout life.
One specific form of childhood foot pain, called epiphysitis, is growth related. Here, the pain occurs inside bones at special areas called growth plates. The calcaneus or heel bone (Sever’s disease) and the knob of bone on the shin under the knee cap (Osgood Schlatter’s disease) are the most common locations for pain but there are several others. These conditions also have a strong relationship to misbehaving feet and poor foot function. If your child is experiencing aches and pains after exercise or is avoiding physical activity routinely, you should see a podiatrist for assessment. In the vast majority of cases, your child’s pain can be easily eliminated by correcting the bad foot function with an in shoe insert. For more information about Sever’s disease of the heel bone, see our Sever’s Disease Info Sheet. Alternatively. please browse to our Growing Pains Info Sheet or use this link to return to the Podiatry FAQs Blog.