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From the age of three upwards, your children may wake, screaming in agony, in the middle of the night, complaining of pain in their legs. When they describe the pain to you, it sounds like cramp, but it's quite likely to be something generally termed 'growing pain'.
'Growing pains' turns out to be a complete misnomer as the pain is not associated with growth at all, however the cause remains one of modern medicine's mysteries. The medical term for this condition is 'benign idiopathic nocturnal limb pains of childhood' which is rather a mouthful! Bouts are suffered by more than a third of children and the pain is strong enough to wake children during their sleep. They are always suffered at night as well, never in the morning. By morning there is no sign that they were ever present and your child won't display any subsequent effects. 'Growing pains' generally recur but on a sporadic basis occurring perhaps once every few months.
Diagnosis of growing pains is achieved by ruling out other possibilities making it difficult to confirm. If your children do experience them regularly then take them to the doctor for an examination in order to ensure that it isn't anything more serious. Growing pains tend also to run in families so ask your own parents and in-laws if they recollect you or your partner suffering from them as children as this is another clue that this is all it is.
From a practical point of view, when they occur, you want to be able to comfort your child. Unfortunately there's not a lot that can be done and no miracle cure! The best advice is to massage the legs or part of the body affected and just cuddle your child until the pain subsides. If they occur regularly then keep a diary of daily activities to see if you can spot a 'trigger' that might be causing them. Research suggests that they may be more prevalent after a day involving heavy exercise, but this may be difficult to confirm for children that lead a generally active life.
The only good thing about these pains is that they do no lasting damage and by morning there's no sign of them. Indeed, your children may not even recollect the entire episode at all!
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