Thursday, January 24, 2008

Body&Soul: Ease their growing pains

By Lori Hall Steele

Your 4-year-old wakes up crying in the night saying his legs ache like crazy. You rub them and soothe your child, but should you give him medication? Should you call the doctor?

Chances are, your child is experiencing growing pains, a normal occurrence in children. A recent study of confirms what parents have long suspected: Bones really do grow at night.

Ninety percent of bone growth in a University of Wisconsin study of sheep happened while they rested. “When the animals were sleeping or laying down, they were growing rapidly. When they were standing, they’d stop growing,” says child orthopedic surgeon Ken Noonan, who conducted the study with Norman Wilsman.

Growing pains in children occur in the lower extremities—around knees and ankles, especially—but not in the arms and upper body, which leads researchers to believe that compression in cartilage around weight-bearing bones may halt bone growth. At night, when children are off their feet, the growth can resume.

“This might be the cause of growing pains,” Noonan says. “Kids who are really active during the day, jumping around like monkeys, may have more compression.”

This doesn’t come as news to parents like Lisa Brinkley, whose 13-year-old daughter, Nicole, would wake in agonizing pain on and off last year. The pain usually began in evening, a time when Nicole likes to read, play on the computer or watch television. She’d complain of general aches. Later that night, she’d wake up crying hard and in severe pain.

Brinkley began asking Nicole what had happened during the day, and inevitably she’d had gym class or another intense physical activity. “In the beginning I’d say ‘sweetie, you’re just probably sore from soccer or kickball,”’ Brinkley says. “But it was way too over the top. There’s a difference between sore and excruciating pain.”
Brinkley took Nicole to the doctor, who ruled out Lyme disease and advised her to give Nicole Motrin or a similar pain reliever to ease the aches.

No one yet knows why some children but not others experience growing pains. Deeper sleepers may not wake up, and children with higher tolerance of pain may snooze through aches. Pains may not be so severe on days without lots of physical, on-their-feet activity.

Growing pains are episodic—there may be one or two incidents, or a couple months of them. Pain usually begins in late afternoon or evening, and is most often localized at or below knee level.

“When Johnny’s had a soccer tournament and played 14 games, parents can take comfort in knowing that if he wakes up in pain, it’s probably growing pains,” Noonan says.

EASE THEIR PAIN
Growing pains concentrate in muscles, rather than joints. Most children report pains in the front of their thighs, in the calves, near ankles or behind the knees.
Though there’s no cure for growing pains – and no way to tell when they’ll strike, or how severely, growing pains can be comforted by:
--Ibuprofen and acetaminophen (never give aspirin to children under 12).
--Gently stretching the area
--Massaging the achy area
--Applying a heating pad
And don't forget the hugs and snuggles.

WHEN TO CALL THE DOCTOR
Pain that lasts through the day, that’s progressively getting worse, that’s not relieved by massage or pain relievers—all are signs something more might be going on and it’s time to see a physician. There are other conditions with similar pains — sports injuries, Lyme disease, juvenile arthritis, rheumatic disease and fibromyalgia among them.

A prime indicator that it’s growing pains is whether you child wants to be touched. With growing pains, children usually feel better if they’re massaged, held and cuddled, while with other medical conditions, kids may dislike being handled because touch and movement can increase pain. Something else might be happening if your child experiences:
--Persistent pain
--Swelling, redness, rashes
--Fever
--Weakness, fatigue
--Appetite or weight loss
--Easy bruising
--A limp
--Uncharacteristic behavior, including acting rundown

Lori Hall Steele, founder of You&Me Kid, is an award-winning journalist. Contact her here.

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