Growing pains refer to pains in certain joints that affect young people, usually between the ages of 10-18.
They are often dismissed as just a normal part of the development of the human body and therefore are not treated with the concern that they really deserve.
Sufferers of growing pains are therefore often told to just take a break from exercise entirely until the pain goes away or to simply “run-off” the injury, neither of which are helpful solutions.
Growing pains need to be properly treated, just like any other injury, otherwise, the problem could get worse, coming back to haunt a sufferer as they get older.
To treat growing pains properly, you need to understand exactly what they are and what causes them. Here we explain exactly that.
What exactly are growing pains?
The term “growing pains” is used widely to describe what is really a distinct set of injuries that affect growth plates—patches of cartilage on the end of long bones that provide the space and structure for the future bone to grow into.
Cartilage is relatively weak in comparison to muscle and bone and is not really meant to take any weight.
Any weaknesses or lack of flexibility in the muscles that surround these growth plates can lead someone’s cartilage having to take the weight. This can cause strains and tiny tears in the cartilage.
These strains and tiny tears are what causes the discomfort associated with growing pains.
As growth plates develop into the bone during the final stages of growth, young people are likely to stop experiencing these pains as they reach adulthood.
What are the signs and symptoms of growing pains?
As growth plates are found in most abundance on the end of long bones, such as the bones in your thigh and shin (tibia and femur), growing pains are most likely to occur in someone’s knee or heel.
Certain types of high impact movements, such as running and jumping, put extra stress on the muscles that surround growth plates. Therefore children who play these types of high impact sports (athletics, basketball, and football all fall into this category) are more likely to have growing pains.
Additionally, boys are more susceptible to growing pains than girls, as boys tend to be less flexible than girls, especially during adolescence.
How do you treat growing pains?
Not all growing pains are the same, and the best treatment really depends on the part of the body that is affected by the pain.
In general, however, growing pains are caused by a lack of strength and flexibility in the muscles that surround the affected area.
Therefore doing exercises particularly targeted at strengthening and increasing the flexibility of these specific muscles is likely to be beneficial from anyone suffering from growing pains.
For example, with Osgood Schlatters Disease, a common type of growing pain that affects the knee, its best to stretch the muscles in the quadriceps, as more flexibility in these muscles means less strain is put on the growth plate just below the knee.
Cutting down on the types of movement that put extra strain on the affected areas will also help with growing pains, but this period of rest only needs to need to be brief.
Cutting out exercise altogether should be avoided as this will only cause the relevant muscles to become weaker.
Why is it important to treat growing pains?
Although growing pains can go away once someone reaches adulthood, the muscle imbalances that underpin these problems can cause issues later on in life.
As young muscles are easier to stretch and strengthen than older muscles, growing pains provide an excellent opportunity for someone to address any muscular weaknesses or imbalances while it is still easy to do so.
Dismissing them as something that will simply be grown out of spurns this opportunity and opens the door for more serious injuries later on in life.
Written by: Jon White
Jon is the Head Therapist at Jon W Sports Injury. He has ten years’ experience working in the Sports Injury Industry. Jon has worked in both professional and semi-professional football as well as played semi-professional football with Holmesdale FC. Jon has degrees in Sports and Exercise Science and Sports Rehabilitation from the University of Exeter and Surrey respectively.