What are Growing Pains?

We’ve all heard of growing pains right? But did you know that what we call growing pains aren’t associated with growing?1 So they’re not actually growing pains at all. This has led doctors to start calling growing pains names like “benign nocturnal limb pains of childhood.” Which really means that your child has sore arms or legs at night, they don’t know why, but they don’t think it’s a major problem. 

We actually know very little about growing pains apart from that some children get sore arms or legs at the end of the day and they usually wake up feeling better in the morning. Unfortunately there are no easy tests that tell a doctor whether these pains are something that will go away by themselves or whether they are actually due to a very real problem that your child needs help with.1 We now know that if your child suffers from pain you shouldn’t just assume that they will ‘grow out of it.’ Studies have shown that when children develop neck and back pain when they are young, which is surprisingly common,2-4 they very often get worse over time, with the pain becoming chronic, more intense, spreading to different locations and becoming much more frequent as they get older.2 3 By the time children turn 18 they have the same amount of back pain as adults, which is a real problem, because low back pain is the leading cause of disability around the world.2

Growing Pains

It’s probably not too surprising that our children are experiencing more pain like back pain and headaches than ever before.5 Because we know that pain in kids is associated with low levels of physical activity6 and our kids are less active now than ever before.7 One reason for this inactivity is many children now spend between 5 and 7 hours a day on their smartphones and handheld devices!4 This is causing a 21st century epidemic called ‘text neck’4 that comes from hours of bending forward to look at devices. Text neck results in changes in the bones, ligaments and muscles  that support the head and causes postural changes and pain in the neck and other related areas.4 It can even cause eye problems and problems with breathing and circulation.4

So, our kids are now taking part in a world-wide experiment to see just how much their health will suffer because of the modern lifestyles we are leading. Parents need to be aware of this major public health problem and be proactive about the choices they make to help their children. The best place for parents to start is by limiting screen time and encouraging physical activity. Parents should also make sure they don’t assume that if their child is in pain it will go away by itself. They should consider taking their children to see a chiropractor to make sure that their spine and nervous system are working well and aren’t under too much stress because of their device use and lifestyle choices because chiropractic care really can help.

A recent research study shows how chiropractic care can help kids who are in pain.8 This new study looked at the benefits of chiropractic care for kids with recurrent headaches. Headaches in kids are very common8 which is a real problem, because they can interfere with school performance, social activities and sport and kids with frequent headaches suffer from higher levels of stress and depression. Just like so many other types of pain, kids who suffer from headaches often go on to become adults who suffer from severe headache syndromes.8 Many things can cause headaches in kids, from poor food choices through to trauma on the sports field or playground.8

Text (tech) neck
Text (or tech) neck is becoming very common in children

But, one other very important cause of headaches in kids is prolonged static posture… which is a scientific way of describing text neck. A group of researchers wanted to find out whether chiropractic care might help break the headache cycle in kids with recurrent headaches. So they did a study with almost 200 kids aged between 7 and 14 who suffered from at least 1 headache per week. They split the kids up to either receive chiropractic care for 4 months or fake chiropractic for 4 months and they tracked them to see if there were any differences in how many headaches they experienced over the 4 months that they were in the study.  What they found was the kids in the chiropractic group had significantly fewer headaches than the kids in the control group and they felt better too. Almost half of the kids in the chiropractic group reported that their headaches had improved during the study which was a really good result for those kids!

This study shows one example of how chiropractic care can help interrupt the pain cycle in kids, which can be really important because we know that kids who are in pain very often become adults who are in pain. 2 3

Remember though that chiropractic care isn’t just about treating pain. Chiropractic care is all about improving the communication between your brain and body so you can function at your optimal potential. It’s also good to know that chiropractic is known to be safe for kids and babies.9 10 So, make sure your child’s spine and nervous system are in great shape by taking them to see your family chiropractor and give them the best possible start in life.  

  1. Lehman PJ, Carl RL. Sports Health 2017;9(2):132-38.
  2. Aartun E, et al.  BMC Musculoskelet Disord 2014;15:187.
  3. Kjaer P, et al. BMC Musculoskelet Disord 2011;12:98.
  4. Fares J, et al. Surg Neurol Int 2017;8:72-72.
  5. Nieswand V, et al. Curr Pain Headache Rep 2020;24(10):62.
  6. Kędra A, et al. Eur Spine J Epub 2020/08/28.
  7. Tremblay MS, et al. Health Rep 2010;21(1):7-20.
  8. Lynge S, et al. Chiropr Man Therap 2021;29(1):1
  9. Todd AJ et al. J Manipulative Physiol Ther Epub2014/12/03.
  10. Doyle MF.Clinical Chiropractic 2011;14(3):97-105.
  • Dr. Heidi Haavik – BSc(Physiol) BSc(Chiro) PhD
  • Dr. Kelly Holt – BSc, BSc(Chiro), PGDipHSc, PhD
  • Dr. Jenna Duehr – BChiro, BHSC (Nursing), MHSc

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