Dealing with your child's body aches can be a real pain! When they occur at bedtime-as is often the case-it's understandable for well meaning parents to write it off as yet another feeble attempt to delay lights out.

As many as one third of all young children experience benign limb pain. In the majority of cases, the pain is real but a trip to the doctor generally isn't necessary. The cause of muscle aches and pains can range from a bout of the flu to a growth spurt (muscles or tendons are a little too tight for the rapidly growing bones), or even a pulled muscle resulting from strenuous activity. Active kids give their bodies a real work out during the day. Climbing, jumping, and running exert muscles and make them sore. Muscle spasms, strong enough to wake a sleeping child, sometimes occur and can last 15 minutes or more. The good news is the pain usually subsides by morning. In the meantime, reassure your child that growing pains are part of growing up and offer some relief. Here, five simple remedies:

Relieving Muscle Aches and Pains

  1. Most kids report muscle aches and pains in their thighs, calves, or behind the knee. A firm but gentle massage can help. Knead the affected area with your hands. Move them along the length of the muscle, working out tension, cramps, and kinks as you go.
  2. Reach for relief by having your child stretch her muscles to loosen the tension. Flexing the feet can help relieve painful calf spasms and leg cramping. Teach your child to stretch properly before and after exercise as it can reduce the incidence of future aches and pains.
  3. Use heat to soothe the pain. A few minutes spent with a heating pad or hot water bottle can be comforting for a child. A nice, long soak in a warm tub can, too. (Note: If the pain is from a new injury, treat with ice first.)  Snuggle a hot water bottle safely inside a towel to protect your little one's skin from a too-hot temperature.
  4. A healthy dose of support and affection will go a long way toward easing any worry and stress that could be making her pain even worse. Quiet activities, such playing a board game or reading can distract her from her discomfort and help her relax enough to go back to sleep.
  5. Relieve muscle pains that persist with an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. But never give a child aspirin or use any sports creams or patches that contain pain relievers such as methyl salicylate. Both can be dangerous for children,

When to Worry

Growing pains are concentrated in the muscles, rather than the joints. Pain that is centered in the joints may look red or swollen and feel warm. If it is accompanied by inflammation that makes it tender even to your touch, or occurs along with a fever, rash, weakness or limping, bring your child to the pediatrician. After taking a thorough history and performing a physical exam, your doctor may order further tests to rule out the possibility of any serious illnesses such as: juvenile arthritis, Lyme disease, lupus, fibromyalgia, and growth disorders.


American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)/Healthy Children