Growing pains: cause and effect

Growing pains are pain felt while growing. It is mainly known among teenagers, but can already occur in toddlers and preschoolers. Growing pains occur during a growth spurt: a period in which the child grows rapidly. The pain is especially noticeable at night. How does it occur and can growing pains cause harm?

What are growing pains?

Growing pains occur during the years when the body is growing. Therefore, growing pains only occur in children and young people up to the age of 18. Growing pains are more common, especially during periods in which a growth spurt occurs. From the age of 4, a child grows an average of 8 centimeters per year. During puberty this can increase to 12 centimeters per year. A growth spurt also occurs in babies, at 10 weeks, 3 weeks, 6 weeks and 3 months. It is unknown whether the baby will suffer from growing pains. The baby will then be hungrier. The period between toddler and preschooler also has a growth spurt.

The cause of the pain

The cause of growing pains is bone growth. Because bones mainly grow during periods of rest, growing pains mainly occur at night. It is striking that many children also complain of growing pains during the summer months. This has to do with the fact that children take it much easier during the summer (holidays). Growing pains do not come from the bones themselves but from muscles and tendons that are being pulled. This is because the muscles and tendons grow more slowly than the bones. They lag behind in growth and therefore have to endure a stretch as the bones grow larger. The stretch on tendons and muscles causes the well-known growing pains. Sometimes growing pains are also confused with tension. Children can unconsciously tense their muscles, causing them to feel tired and painful. There is often abdominal pain.

What does the child feel?

Pain is felt, mainly around the knees, shins or other parts of the leg. The poor also sometimes exhibit growing pains. This could be on the wrist, elbow or elsewhere. As bones grow, muscles and tendons are pulled. Growing pains last an average of 15 minutes and can occur several times a night. However, growing pains do not last longer than a few weeks.


If the child complains a lot about pain, it is important to discover whether there is no other cause. Especially if the child also has pain during the day, something else may be going on. Growing pains cannot be detected by a doctor. There is no inflammation, swelling or abnormality on photos or scan. Another cause is often visible or observable.
If the pain is severe, the child can be given children’s paracetamol. Normal paracetamol may also be administered to children aged 12 and over. It is important that the child is given distraction so that he or she is not too preoccupied with the pain. Growing pains will go away on their own. The doctor cannot do anything about this except reassure. As long as the cause is actually growing pain, treatment is completely pointless.

Adults and animals with growing pains

Growing pains do not exist in adults: after all, the bones no longer grow. However, similar complaints may arise. In any case, this is not called growing pains. Leg pain has many different causes. The doctor can best find and treat these.
Animals also experience growth spurts. Dogs more often suffer from growing pains between six months and one and a half years of age. This mainly occurs in large dog breeds that gain height quickly. Sometimes a lameness can be seen that can change: sometimes on the right leg and then on the left. This lameness may suddenly disappear, only to reappear after a few days or weeks. The dog may squeak softly or calm down a bit. In general, growing pains mainly occur during the dog’s sleep, but can still be felt by the dog after waking up. If the lameness persists for a long time, there is often something else going on. The vet will then examine the paw and possibly take an X-ray. Other animal species also experience growing pains. In all other animal species with growing pains, this also occurs during the growth phase (the youth phase) of the animal. Once the animal reaches adulthood, the growing pains disappear.

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