Growing Pains: Is this What's Causing Leg Pain at Night?

I was wondering about my 3-year-old identical twin sons complaining at night about leg pain. Mostly this is only one of the boys and it can sometimes be his foot, knee, etc., but usually complains of his lower leg. I found that his little calf muscles are all knotted up and if I massage them fairly hard, it seems to help.

Is this what my mother referred to as growing pains? What do you suggest?

I did give Tylenol in the middle of the night in one instance since he cried in pain for 1/2 an hour.

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Robert Steele

Robert W. Steele, MD, is a board certified pediatrician at St. John's Regional Health Center in Springfield, MO. He graduated from medical... Read more

Limb pain especially at night may occur in as many as one third of all children.

In evaluating this pain, it is important to distinguish whether the pain is in the muscle or the joint. This may be done by having the child point with one finger exactly where it hurts, passively moving his knees, hips, and ankles to see if that elicits pain, and feeling the muscles, just as you did, to see if the muscles are in spasm. Pains in joints may be more worrisome especially if they feel warm, are red, or if your child has fever.

Your description is very good for a muscle spasm commonly known as growing pains. The calf muscle is in deep contraction which causes great pain. Thus, to relieve this, stretch the muscle by pushing the foot and toes upward as far as they will go and then deep massage just as you have been. During the day, stretching this muscle a few times the same way may help prevent this from occurring.

Call your doctor if:

  1. A joint is swollen, red, or can't be fully moved
  2. The pain lasts continuously for over 24 hours
  3. Your child is acting sick
  4. The limb pain is very severe

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