Growing pains in young children are a much bigger problem than first thought

Growing pains in young children are a much bigger problem than first thought, affecting one child in every three, a University of South Australia study shows.

Parents of children aged 4 to 6 years from across South Australia’s metropolitan and rural regions participated in the study by completing specially developed questionnaires on the prevalence of growing pains in their children.

While growing pains have been known about for many years, this is the first time that research has focused specifically on young children to determine the extent of the problem. It is these young children who are purported to be the most affected but have been the least studied, according to podiatry PhD student, Ms Angela Evans from UniSA’s School of Health Sciences.

“Growing pains affect a lot of young children (36.9 per cent of children in our study) to the point that they’re seeing a health professional or taking pain medication. It has also been estimated in other studies that children with growing pains who frequently see medical or other health practitioners can take up between five and seven per cent of health care resources, which is considerable,” Evans said.

“Children who are otherwise healthy and well can be described as having growing pains when they experience recurrent leg pain and aches in both legs. It is important to note that these pains occur in the muscle groups, not in the joints, which differentiates them from more serious conditions.

“Growing pains typically start late in the day, particularly at night, and are more likely to occur after increased activity. The level of distress varies from complaints by some children to crying and screaming by others, depending on the intensity of the pain. In terms of frequency, it seems to go in spates, from say, four times in a week to nothing for a month, making it difficult to monitor,” Evans said.

“While there’s a lot that we still don’t know about growing pains, it has been classically diagnosed by the exclusion of more serious conditions.

“It is important for health care professionals to be more aware of this too-often-dismissed childhood problem where, in about 70 per cent of cases, there is a family history of growing pains,” Evans said.

Ms Evans is now conducting research to compare children with and without growing pains to see if there is a difference anatomically in their foot posture. This is the first time that this type of research has been conducted anywhere in the world.

“Preliminary testing suggests that there is an association between children’s foot posture and leg pains and we are investigating to see whether that theory is a factor,” Evans said.

“We have developed the best methods for accurately measuring the anatomical part of the foot for children aged 4, 5 and 6 by using ultrasound to make sure that measurements are valid.

Research that leads to the cause of growing pain will help children and their parents to better manage the condition and reduce the number of visits to health professionals, according to Evans, whose research is being supervised by Associate Professor Sheila Scutter, Dean of Teaching and Learning in the Division of Health Sciences.

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