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'Growing pains' - There's no such thing!

Written by: Michelle Morse, DPM

Published in The Patriot Ledger

As children, our bodies are constantly changing and growing, but why is it that “growing pains” only occur in the feet and legs?

“Growing pains” is an outdated term that is still used — even by medical professionals — most often to describe what cannot be more readily explained. There is no conclusive scientific evidence that suggests “growing” in and of itself causes any pain. Still, when children complain of pain, it should not be ignored.

“When parents bring in their children for 'growing pains,' I most commonly diagnose them with either tendinitis, Sever’s disease, shin splints or other overuse-related injuries," notes Quincy and Easton foot and ankle surgeon, Michelle A. Morse, DPM. “With the proper diagnosis, treatment and prevention strategies, most children improve rather quickly.”

With all the climbing, running and jumping that many children subject their body to in a given day, it is no surprise that their muscles and other soft tissue can be sore. This can be especially true at night when they are resting. However, sometimes there is more to it.

Tendinitis is a condition that can occur at any age when there is too much strain on the tendon due to the muscle being too weak, tight or both.

Sever’s disease is the inflammation of the heel’s growth plate due to repetitive stress during activity. It most commonly occurs in active children between the ages of 8 and 14. It can occur in both feet at the same time.
Shin splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, is a very common condition where there is too much strain on the inner leg due to tight calf muscles and a falling arch. If left untreated, it can result in a stress fracture.

Treatments:

If mild to moderate, all of the above diagnoses may improve with simple remedies like wearing stable shoes, stretching, resting and icing.

Shoe stability: To assess the stability of your shoes, hold the bottom of the shoe and try to bend and twist where the height of your arch is located. A stable shoe will not have any motion with this action. In addition, if you squeeze the sides of the heel, it should be firm and not collapse.

Calf stretching: Tight calves are often the underlying cause of many foot and lower leg ailments. Therefore, stretching is a very important part of the recovery. There are many ways to stretch the calf, but one of the best and easiest to do throughout the day is the “wall stretch." Stand a couple feet from the wall and place the ball of the foot you want to stretch against the wall, while your heel remains on the ground. Keep your leg straight while leaning toward the wall and hold for 30 to 60 seconds. This stretches one of the two muscles that make up the calf muscle. This can be done throughout the day.

IcingIce helps to decrease local inflammation to mitigate pain and aid in healing. Ensure that there is fabric between the skin and an ice pack. Limit use to 15 to 20 minutes at a time. It can be helpful to repeat this again in 20 to 40 minutes. 

For children who do not improve with these remedies, there may be more chronic underlying factors that contribute to the lack of resolution. In these cases, it is best to have your children evaluated by a specialist. X-rays may be considered in addition to a personalized shoe or special orthotic recommendations for your child’s foot type. Physical therapy can also be an integral aspect of the recovery process. 

“One of my favorite aspects of my job is being able to help and educate young patients and their families on how to prevent common age-related conditions associated with their specific foot type” states Dr. Morse. “Their parents and siblings usually learn something too!”

If your child’s pain does not improve or resolve, make an appointment with Dr. Morse at Compass Medical in Quincy or Easton. Call 617-481-3710 for more information.

Dr. Michelle Morse trained at Beth Israel Deaconess, a Harvard teaching hospital. As part of her surgical residency, she spent time at Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine Division for specialized pediatric and young adult care.

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