Growing pains ‘are a myth’! Scientists say there is no proof centuries-old condition exists

There’s no such thing as ‘growing pains’! Scientists say centuries-old childhood condition could just be a misnomer

  • Nearly 150-study review found doctors do not agree on growing pains definition 
  • 95 per cent of papers made no mention of growth when defining the condition 
  • Researchers say doctors should stop diagnosing children with growing pains 

Hearing your child complain about growing pains may feel like part and parcel of parenthood.

But a study now suggests there’s no such thing.

Although a child’s discomfort will likely be real, the centuries-old phrase appears to be nothing more than a misnomer.

University of Sydney experts reviewed the existing literature behind the condition.

Ninety-five per cent of the 150 papers analysed made no mention of growth when defining the ailment.

The ‘concerning’ findings mean doctors should stop diagnosing children as having growing pains for now until more about the condition is known, the team said.

Pain in the muscles and bones in children could have a range of other causes, they suggested. 

Around a third of children experience growing pains — first mentioned in an 1823 medical book — at some point in their life, according to studies. 

The NHS describes them as ‘an aching or throbbing in both legs’, which usually stops by the age of around 12. They are harmless but can be very painful.

A University of Sydney study suggests growing pains may not really exist and could be a variety of other problems

What are growing pains? 

Growing pains are common in children, mainly in the legs. They’re harmless, but can be very painful. They usually stop by around age 12. 

Growing pains can come and go over months, even years.

The pain is usually:

  • An aching or throbbing in both legs
  • In the muscles, not the joints
  • In the evening or night-time (and goes away by morning)

Growing pains are more common in active children and can come on after playing a lot of sports.

They’re also more common in children with flexible joints (double jointed).

It’s not clear what causes growing pains. They can run in families.

They’re not caused by growing and they’re not a sign of anything serious.

Source: NHS 

Experts are unsure what causes them but know they can run in families, but the NHS already acknowledges that they are not actually down to growing. 

In extremely rare cases, aches dismissed by doctors as growing pains have actually been caused by serious illnesses, including cancer. 

Lead author Dr Mary O’Keeffe, a musculoskeletal health expert, said: ‘Thousands of kids are diagnosed with growing pains by their healthcare professional, but we were curious — what does that diagnosis really mean?’

The review, published in the medical journal Pediatrics, analysed 147 studies which mentioned growing pains.

Only seven mentioned pain related to growth. 

More than 80 per cent of the studies did not mention a young person’s age at the time ‘growing pains’ occurred.

There was also no widespread agreement or a lack of detail on where the pain was located or when the pain happened.

Half referenced ‘growing pains’ as being located in the lower limb, while just over a quarter reported it specifically in the knees.

Forty-eight per cent of studies reported ‘growing pains’ happen during the evening or night and 42 per cent said it was recurring.

Researchers said the range of definitions found across the literature suggested ‘growing pains’ may actual be a medical misnomer. 

Co-author Professor Steven Kamper, a spinal pain expert, said: ‘What we found was a little concerning.

‘There is no consistency in the literature on what “growing pains” means.

‘The definitions were really variable, vague and often contradictory. Some studies suggested growing pains happened in the arms, or in the lower body. 

‘Some said it was about muscles while other studies said joints.’