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Symptom of the Week: Growing Pains

Growing pains are the most common cause of leg cramps in young children. Despite occurring in up to 36.9 % of children, our understanding of why it occurs still remains poor.

What Are the Possible Causes of Leg Cramps?

Muscle overuse, misalignment of the joints (such as knock-knees or flat-feet) and even psychological factors have all been suggested as playing a role, however, none of these theories have been conclusive What we do know is that recurrent pain negatively impacts physical, mental and schooling aspects of a child’s life.

Growing pains are a significant cause of childhood discomfort and for the ease and comfort of all involved (both the distressed child and the weary, tired parents) the issue needs to be addressed and a suitable remedy found.

Some Facts about Leg Cramps & Growing Pains

• Growing pains most commonly occur in children aged 2-12, and disappear by puberty.
• The pain is generally present in both legs, most often in the late afternoon or at night, and often wakes the child from sleep.
• Importantly, there should be no signs of swelling, redness, trauma, limping or decreases in movement – if so, seek the advice of a primary health practitioner.
• A 2006 study conducted in South Australia found that growing pains generally occurred between one and three monthly intervals and there was no overall difference in amount of activity between children with and without growing pains. Children with growing pains were also found to be significantly heavier and in 69.8% of cases, they had a family history of growing pains in either a parent or sibling.

What can be done to remedy leg cramps and growing pains?

Parents are given few to no options for treatment. Typically, massaging the legs and the use of analgesics are the only suggestions. Parents are often told this is normal during the growth process and it will pass. This offers little comfort to parents who awaken to their child’s cries night after night. Our team of experienced chiropractors believe that any child who has been either diagnosed with “growing pains,” or who complains of intermittent leg pains in bed at night, should have a thorough checkup with a chiropractor to ensure that spinal problems are not the underlying cause.

So what other options do parents have?

The best place to start is by considering the possible causes of these muscle cramps for your child.

• Let’s start with the feet – “Are their shoes too small or too worn?”
• Let’s think about the muscles – “Could your child be dehydrated and need to drink more water?” or “Is their diet not varied enough; do they have a magnesium deficiency?”
• Let’s think about nerve communication and spine function – “Is it possible they have fallen over and created nerve and joint irritation in their pelvis?” or “Have they been sitting too much or too awkwardly, creating spinal misalignments which are affecting the nerves?”

A recent case study found that when growing pains are linked to spine and nerve dysfunction, chiropractic care may be of benefit (Alcantara & Davis 2010).

In this study, two toddlers (a 2¾-yr-old girl and 3½-yr-old boy) were taken to the chiropractor with growing pains of several months duration. Medical care had thus far recommended offering Tylenol. In the chiropractic examination, spinal dysfunction (or vertebral subluxations) were detected in the lumbosacral spine of both children and chiropractic adjustments were made to help improve nerve function and spinal motion. After their first chiropractic adjustment, both mothers stated that their child did not wake at night with growing pains, and after completing a trial of care, both children’s initial complaints fully resolved.

Altered biomechanics and spinal misalignment, especially in the lower lumbar spine and pelvis, creates imbalances in the quadriceps, hamstring, and calf muscles, which may contribute to leg pain. Pelvic misalignment can lead to leg-length inequalities; the child is unevenly distributing his or her weight, placing additional stress and strain not only on the spine, but feet, ankles, and knees as well.

Great things are to be said about the effect of chiropractic care on “growing pains.” When stress is removed from the spine and nervous system, it allows the body to function at its best.

Instead of treating specific problems (such as growing pains), chiropractic aims to correct underlying or undetected nerve and spine dysfunction, helping the body to naturally work the way it should. In addition to looking at other factors that may influence growing pains such as nutrition, hydration and footwear, addressing possible nerve and spinal dysfunctions may help growing pains to rapidly resolve on their own.

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