"Mummy my legs hurt" - Growing Pains in Children

Infant and Children | September 5, 2017 | Author: Naturopath

Children

"Mummy my legs hurt" - Growing Pains in Children

Growing pains are harmless muscular pains that affect children during peak growth times. They may be harmless, but many children and their parents could swear that the cramping (and subsequent crying) feel like they're doing serious damage. Generally (and falsely) believed to be caused by the growth of bones, growing pains are likely due to a combination of muscle tiredness, poor posture, and emotional triggers. They can feel like muscle cramps or sharp twinges of pain.

These pains occur sporadically through ages three to five, and then reappear at ages eight through to 11 years – peak times of growth, thus the name. Some adolescents will experience growing pains in their early teens, too. While this is an awfully long time to be experiencing intermittent pains, some kids can go years without experiencing them at all.

Good news – there are plenty of natural therapies to help relieve these muscular pains and get through the growing years.

Characteristics of Growing Pains

growing painsGrowing pains can be distinguished from other pains and cramps by their classic characteristics: They are generally felt in both legs at the same time, usually at the front of the thigh, behind the knee, and in the calf. Arm muscles are sometimes affected, too. The pain is felt in the late afternoon, evening and night, and is gone by the morning. Growing pains may occur nightly (or every few nights) for up to a week, and may be severe enough to wake the child.

Growing pains shouldn't cause a limp or impair movement in any way.

Growing Pains or a Serious Condition?

While growing pains are harmless, the pain may be due to conditions that are more serious and require treatment. Arthritis, infections, and growth defects can cause similar types of pain in children at any age. Seek medical advice if your child has a fever, loss of appetite, swelling or redness of a limb or joint, or if the pain:

  • is severe
  • only occurs in one limb
  • continues during the day
  • causes a limp

What Causes Growing Pains?

The exact cause is yet to be determined, but growing pains typically appear after a day of activity or emotional distress.
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A common hypothesis is that a particularly energetic day can use up the minerals and vitamins the body needs to repair muscles and, well, grow! Key nutrients like magnesium, calcium, zinc, iron, and vitamin C, vitamin D, and the B group vitamins are major players when it comes to growth, and your child's body quickly uses them up during a busy day.
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Times of high stress, like starting a new school or suffering from changes at home, also puts a higher demand on these nutrients. 
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Other causes could include postural issues – spinal problems can cause pinched nerves or added pressure on the muscles of the legs and arms. Podiatry issues can also contribute the problem. Ask a physician, podiatrist or chiropractor to make sure everything is aligned as it should be.

Natural Therapies for Growing Pains

Magnesium for Growing Pains

Magnesium is a tried and tested muscle relaxant, and it is the first port of call for growing pains. 

Growing pains in childrenMagnesium is quickly used up during exercise, and kids need a lot of it. It's found in lots of foods that children don't typically love – leafy green vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts [1].
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 Magnesium supplements can be taken before bed to prevent the onset of growing pains, provided they don't contain high levels of excitatory vitamin B6. Most children tolerate magnesium supplements well, but some can suffer from upset tummies as a result.

Bathing in epsom salts is a safe and effective way to boost your child's magnesium levels before bed to prevent the onset of growing pains. An epsom salt bath has the added benefit of warmth, which can be particularly soothing for muscle cramps. You can even add a few drops of muscle-relaxing essential oils like lavender or clary sage.

Magnesium oils can be applied directly to the skin for topical pain relief. These oils are made from magnesium chloride, which is readily absorbed through the skin and delivered straight to the muscle, but it can cause skin irritation in sensitive kids. Start with just a small amount applied to damp skin.
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Vitamin D for Growing Pains

A study showed that many children with growing pains are deficient in vitamin D, and a more recent trial showed that supplementing with vitamin D for three months reduced growing pains in thirty-three children [2] [3]. Click Here For Article

Vitamin DWhile vitamin D is related to bone health, bones grow too slowly to cause growing pains. It may be its relationship with magnesium and calcium that links vitamin D to growing pains. These two minerals are key muscle relaxants and any disruption to their metabolism due to low vitamin D levels could cause cramping. While a vitamin D supplement may be necessary for children who are deficient, it's possible to boost suboptimal levels with 10 minutes of play in the sun without sunscreen per day, and increasing their intake of vitamin D foods like egg yolks, fatty fish, mushrooms, and cheese.
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Electrolytes for Growing Pains

Electrolyte minerals are quickly excreted during periods of activity, including play and growth.  It's important that kids drink a lot of water, but adding a natural electrolyte powder can help them stay hydrated. Coconut water is an easy alternative to sports drinks with a similar electrolyte balance. TIP: Keep an eye on your child's sodium intake – too much (or not enough) salt can cause nocturnal leg cramps.

Essential Oil Massage for Growing Pains

Massage is a soothing and bonding experience to help your child relax when they experience growing pains.  You can create your own essential oil blend by mixing 100mL of a carrier oil (e.g. sweet almond oil) with 20 drops of muscle-relaxing anti-cramping essential oils like lavender, clary sage, eucalyptus and roman chamomile (use 5 drops of each) [4].

Herbal Teas for Growing Pains

Herbal medicines are often too potent for young bodies, but a strong cup of chamomile tea may safely soothe the nervous system and relax muscles before bed to prevent the onset of growing pains [4]. Ginger, cinnamon, and turmeric brews are also gentle but effective pain-relievers [5] [6]. Some kids don't mind the taste of these, but others will need a spoon of honey of mineral-rich maple syrup to sweeten the deal.
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References

 [1] Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (2010) NUTTAB. http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/science/monitoringnutrients/nutrientables/nuttab/pages/default.aspx

[2] Morandi, G., et al. (2015) Significant association among growing pains, vitamin D supplementation, and bone mineral status: results from a pilot cohort study. J Bone Miner Metab., 33:2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24633492

[3] Qamar, S., et al. (2011) Vitamin D levels in children with growing pains. J Coll Physicians Surg Pak, 21:5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21575536

 [4] Ali, B., et al. (2015) Essential oils used in aromatherapy: A systemic review. Asian Pacific Journal of Topical Biomedicine, 5:8, 601 – 611. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2221169115001033

[5] Mehmood, M. H., et al. (2015) Antidiarrhoeal, antisecretory and antispasmodic activities of Matricaria chamomilla are mediated predominantly through K(+)-channels activation. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25886126

[6] Nicol, L. M., et al. (2015) Curcumin supplementation likely attenuates delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Euro J Appl Physiol., 115:8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25795285

[7] Mashhadi, N. S., et al. (2013) Influence of ginger and cinnamon intake on inflammation and muscle soreness endued by exercise in Iranian female athletes. Int J Prev Med., 4:1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23717759

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