Updated: August 2, 2013 6:08AM
“Growing Pains” isn’t just a popular television show from the late ’80s. I learned this last week when my 7-year-old son woke up in tears.
Bubba complained about his legs being sore when The Wife put him to bed. I dismissed this as general fatigue or lingering soreness from one of the multiple spills my newbie biker has taken while learning to balance on his two-wheeler.
However, Bubba’s cries at 11 p.m. suggested another diagnosis. When asked to identify the location of the pain, my boy pointed to his lower legs and feet. Massage seemed to help, which led The Wife to believe growing pains were the cause.
I didn’t believe growing pains were even real prior to this nighttime spell. I figured this was just something parents blamed for their child’s poor sleep habits. Or more likely, growing pains were an excuse children used to stay up past bedtime.
Dr. Lisa Berglund confirmed that growing pains are real. These pains often strike active children who show no symptoms throughout the day. The throbbing pains come on in the evening and affect both legs, said Berglund, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Orthopaedic Section.
“I think you are in the majority of people that are skeptical (about growing pains). These pains are much like a migraine headache. Unless you’ve had one, you don’t know what it’s like,” she said.
Growing pains are common among children, although it’s difficult to say just how many kids experience them since few cases end up in the doctor’s office. And the pains typically don’t occur every night, Berglund said.
When Bubba came downstairs crying, I had a brilliant solution. I figured the problem was muscle soreness. So I applied a healthy glob of a muscle cream to both of his legs. This was a huge mistake. Now his legs not only hurt, but they were burning from the ointment.
“Ahh, it burns,” Bubba said through tears. Followed by, “Ahh, it hurts!”
It turns out that while it seems like there’s a pill for everything nowadays, growing pains are best treated with big hugs. Light massage and encouraging words also help, Berglund said.
After the heat rub wore off, Bubba woke up again. He started doing toe touches at 3 a.m. He believed this helped. Berglund said some studies suggest that stretching can counteract growing pains, though there’s nothing conclusive.
Growing pains usually don’t require a visit to the doctor’s office. But these pains may signal more serious problems. If the soreness is accompanied by fever, redness or inflammation, contact a doctor. Also, growing pains should go away in the morning, and these pains are rarely localized in a joint, Berglund said.
Perhaps most important, parents shouldn’t dismiss growing pains, as I almost did.
“Don’t ignore these pains. Treat your child. Sooth them. Comfort them. There is real pain there. Growing pains are real. They are not just trying to get out of bed,” Berglund said.
Howard A. Ludwig is a former SouthtownStar business writer who traded his reporter’s notepad for a diaper bag, becoming a stay-at-home dad.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.