We love seeing kids of all ages in our Tahmoor community enjoying their favourite sports on the weekends and after school. Research has shown that sports involvement does so much more than benefit a child’s physical health and physical skills like coordination – it also helps with developing their:
- Self-esteem, confidence and emotional skills
- Social skills, including a sense of belonging and forming friendships
- Healthy mindset around winning and losing
… to name a few! So when we see kids sitting on the sideline kids and unable to enjoy the activities they love with their friends, or represent their team after putting in a lot of time and effort into their training, and all because they’re waiting for their ‘growing pains’ to hopefully subside, we feel very passionate about spreading the word that growing pains:
❌ Don’t have to be waited out
❌ Can be treated as they have a musculoskeletal cause
❌ Can take weeks to years to resolve on their own
❌ Should not be put up with while your child misses out on the things they enjoy
Growing pains are one of the most common complaints we treat in kids under 16 years
Often mistaken in very active kids for feet and legs exhausted during play, growing pains affect children during growth spurts which often occur between 7 and 16 years of age. They are most often seen in active kids with a significant sports involvement, though any child going through a period of growth can be affected.
What is a growing pain?
The way that all our bones grow and get bigger is with specific areas at the bone ends of all bones called growth plates (or apophyses, if we’re getting medical). Think of them as construction sites to which the body adds new bone cells. These areas aren’t quite as strong as the completed bony foundations around them, meaning that if any part of a bone will be vulnerable to pain and injury when the bone is under excess stress, it’s going to be the growth plate. As an FYI, once we reach full maturity and ‘stop growing’, our growth plates disappear and the areas will solidify and harden completely.
Our bones and muscles are a team
While children’s bones are growing, so are their muscles – not just in strength but also in their length to keep up with the bones that they attach to. Ideally, the bones and muscles will grow at a similar rate. Unfortunately, in the majority of growing pain cases that we see, there is an element of muscle tightness where during a rapid growth spurt, the bone has grown much faster and left the attaching muscle in a very tight and tense position. This means the muscles and their tendons are constantly pulling on the bone as kids run, walk and play.
When this tension happens near a growth plate the growth plate can become irritated and leave your child with pain and swelling. This is known as growing pains.
Many other factors contribute to growing pains, too
Of course, as with anything affecting the human body, many factors can contribute to the development of growing pains, ranging from low-set footwear like their football boots, to their foot posture like if they have flat feet, and much more.
Growing pains: Heels, knees & feet
The back of the heels, the knees and the outside of the middle of the foot are the three most common areas for growing pains that we see and treat. This is because of the proximity of attaching muscles and tendons to bones with nearby growth plates.
Heel growing pains: Sever’s
Looking at your heel bone (calcaneus), kids have a growth plate right at the back of their heel close to where the Achilles tendon attaches. Being the strongest tendon in the body, that connects the calf muscles to the back of the heels, a tight and tense Achilles tendon will transmit a large amount of force onto the back of the heel bone anytime your child moves, especially when they run, which irritates the nearby growth plate and causes mild to severe pain with potential swelling at the back of the heel. The symptoms will tend to start during or after sports, and may cause them to limp off the field.
Knee growing pains: Osgood Schlatter’s
Growing pains at the knee means that growth plate at the top of the shin bone (tibia) has been irritated by the pull of the patellar tendon, which comes down from the muscles at the front of your thighs (gastrocs), crosses the knee and kneecap, and attached at the top of the shins. This produces pain and swelling below and around the kneecap, especially when bending the knee.
Foot growing pains: Iselin’s
Run your fingers along the outside edge of the foot – feel that bony bump around the outer middle of your foot? That’s where your child will feel their pain and potential swelling. You don’t need to remember the name, but here it is the peroneus brevis tendon that travels down from the outer leg, across the outer ankle, and attaches to that bony bump (your ‘styloid’) which causes the growth plate irritation on this bone.
Treating and preventing growing pains
We’re not quite sure where this misconception or old wives tale of nothing being able to be done for growing pains came from, but thankfully it has no scientific backing. When you know and understand the cause of any problem, like the musculoskeletal imbalance and tightness like we have here, then the solution is fairly straightforward: reducing or eliminating this tightness and therefore the tension on the bone and growth plate, means that the painful symptoms will stop – or won’t start in the first place.
It’s also important to address any contributing factors to the tension and growth plate irritation, including correcting any poor foot biomechanics, switching out unsupportive footwear that is making the problem worse, looking at a child’s unique muscle strength, the range of motion in their joints, their gait pattern, and much more.
Once we have the full picture, our podiatrists can create an all-inclusive treatment plan to address the primary problem and contributing factors, thereby alleviating the pain and enabling your child to get back on the field, while helping prevent growing pains from recurring in the future, or starting in the first place.
Concerned about growing pains?
Our experienced podiatry team here in Tahmoor, Sydney is available to help. We love working with families to help get children out of pain and back to the sports and activities they love. Book your appointment with us by calling (02) 8405 6850 or book online here.