Growing pains: Contemporary knowledge and recommended practice

Are achy legs waking your child up at night? If the problem disappears like a bad dream in the morning, it could be growing pains. About 25-40 per cent children will suffer from growing pains at one point or another, usually between the ages of three and 12. And obviously parents suffer, too, because, sleep deprivation!

So, what are growing pains exactly?

If you ever had growing pains as a child, you probably remember waking up in the middle of the night with intense leg cramps or a deep throbbing pain in your legs. They happen most often in the late afternoon or at night, often children wake up from a deep sleep.

Despite several studies that have set out to discover the “why” behind growing pains, there is no single cause that researchers agree on. That may be because like a sore throat – which might be caused by too much cheering at a football game, a viral/bacterial infection, or irritated mucous membranes due to dry air – there may be more than one cause of growing pains.

Here are the top theories:

Nutritional deficiencies – Some studies show that certain deficiencies, particularly in vitamin D and magnesium, may contribute.

Sore muscles from intense physical activity – Because growing pains occur following intense daytime running, jumping, etc. According to some studies, researchers have suggested that muscle soreness can be the cause.

Spinal misalignment – In one small study, chiropractic adjustments to improve spinal alignment resolved complaints of growing pains.

Natural remedies for growing pains

Of course, when your child wakes up in the middle of the night with achy legs you don’t need theories, you need something to act on. Let’s dive into some natural remedies that work right away and can also help in the long-term.


Massage is a wonderful comfort measure for leg cramps and aches. Gently massaging the calves or other areas of leg pain can ease discomfort from growing pains. You can use a few drops of lavender essential oil mixed with a tablespoon of massage oil to help relax your child. Arnica oil or cream can also be used for massage with some guidelines.

Hot water bottle or heating pad

Heat is definitely the fastest and most effective way to immediately ease aches. Warmth, either from a heating pad or hot water bottle, can help sooth leg aches.

Warm bath

Instead of simply applying heat locally, warm baths are a whole body approach that can ease aches while balancing the sympathetic/parasympathetic nervous system. In other words, warm water supports relaxation and it may make it easier to transition back to sleep.


Because some studies show that growing pains occur following intense physical activity, researchers have suggested that muscle soreness is the cause. It seems a little strange to us that the muscle soreness would spontaneously resolve the next morning as is suggested, but since there does often seem to be a physical activity related component we think relaxing the muscles is a great idea. Magnesium is amazing at relaxing muscles, and it’s also an essential nutrient for building bones that many of us don’t get enough of. With magnesium supplementation via Epsom salt baths, magnesium body butter, or liquid magnesium, discomfort from sore muscles and growing pains is relieved.

Essential oils

Although, we haven’t come across any studies directly related to essential oils and growing pains, there are some which show a benefit for muscle aches, easing discomfort, and sleep. The four essential oils that have all the properties that may be helpful include Roman chamomile which is shown to ease discomfort and support a healthy inflammatory response, lavender which is also helpful for easing discomfort and promoting restful sleep, mandarin helps in sleep and easing feelings of distress while tangerine is used to calm mild spasms.

Vitamin D

A recent study indicates only six per cent of kids who experienced growing pains had a sufficient amount of vitamin D. Vitamin D absorbs the minerals necessary to build healthy bones, and supplementing a child’s diet with vitamin D may help alleviate growing pains.

Bone broth

Bone broth contains high levels of collagen, the primary structural protein found in skin and other connective tissues. In one study of 112 kids with growing pains, researchers found using bone meal in combination with vitamins A and D relieved growing pains.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 helps transport magnesium into cells, and growing pains have been linked to vitamin B6 deficiencies in children. Incorporating vitamin B6-rich foods like cashews, hazelnuts, asparagus, yams, and broccoli into a kid’s diet may help overcome growing pains. Pediatricians may also recommend vitamin B6 supplements.