Children & Growing Pains
By Si En Wong, Physiotherapist
Growing pains, a term that has been loosely thrown around whenever a child complains of aching knees or ankles. “Ah, it’s just growing pains, it’ll go away soon” or “Oh, it’s growing pains. It means you are growing taller, that’s good.”
But what is the definition of growing pains?
Growing pain is an ache or discomfort that children around the age of 9 to 15 would usually experience.
Common areas affected are the knees and ankles. This is known as Osgood Schlatter’s and Sever’s respectively.
So, why does it only affect children?
The anatomy of children is slightly different from adults.
Here are x-rays of the knee joint in a child versus an adult –
The bones in the child’s x-ray have not fully develop and the epiphyseal plates are significantly visible. As the child hits puberty, the epiphyseal plates will fuse with the long bones and continue to grow in length.
In the process of the bones growing in length, the muscles will have to adapt as it will be stretched out as well. However, muscles do not grow as quickly as bones, so, this in turn puts a strain on the muscle attachment on the bone.
Children that are active in various sports like basketball, footy or even running will spend majority of their training strengthening their lower limbs. However as the muscle is put to work, it can become tighter or even spasmed without proper warm ups or cool downs.
With additional tension being placed onto the muscle that is attempting to grow proportionately to the bone, it can put a fair bit of pressure onto the muscle attachment on the bone, making it uncomfortable for the child.
Signs and symptoms are:
- Pin point ache just below the knee joint (Osgood Schlatter’s) or under the heel (Sever’s) where the muscles attached
- Increased discomfort after activities like jumping or running
- Pain started after the child has undergone or is currently going through a growth spurt
- There is a decrease in discomfort with massage or heat packs
- Trigger point release along the muscle belly – this is to decreased tension on the muscle attachments
- Load management during sporting activities – making sure that the child is still able to stay active without overloading the muscles
- Eccentric control exercises of isolated muscles – this is to strengthen specific muscles so that it will be able to handle the activity load of the child without placing too much tension onto muscle attachment.
It is always important to discuss your child’s presentation with your physiotherapist and get a proper diagnosis. This is because there are many other injuries that can be masked as growing pains, such as epiphyseal plate fractures, or low grade muscle tears.
Having a physiotherapist would also be beneficial for a personalised treatment management plan as every child is different.
To make an appointment with Si En, click here to book online or call (08) 6389 2947