Growing Pains and Restless Leg: Is there a connection?

Many people are familiar with the “growing pains” of childhood, but what causes the phenomenon has mystified researchers for nearly two hundred years. The pain usually occurs in the legs and strikes at night after daily activity in childhood. At one time, it was believed that growing pains were a sign of rheumatic fever or psychological disturbances, but nowadays many people believe, incorrectly, that growing pains are associated with the long bones growing faster than the surrounding tissues. The origin of this thinking was that this growth of the long bones causes pulling and discomfort in the surrounding muscles and soft tissue structures—but is that really what is going on?


kids in tree photo

In the 1930’s, researchers began associating growing pains to postural or structural imbalances, and associating the pains with conditions such as flatfoot, “knock-knees,” scoliosis, or just generally poor posture. The researchers back then noticed that when these other conditions were treated, often the “growing pains” would resolve rapidly and completely.


Later in the 1940’s, Dr. Ekbom described the condition in the literature now commonly referred to as “restless leg syndrome,” which at the time was known as Ekbom Syndrome. Dr. Ekbom believed that there was a connection between growing pains in childhood and restless leg syndrome in adulthood, and an increasing body of literature supports that this may indeed be the case—the answer lies in what may be the causative factor for these conditions, and more and more, it is pointing toward biomechanical instability as a potential root cause.


The cause of the growing pains and restless leg may actually be associated with something called “referred pain”—which basically means pain felt at one location that is different from where the problem actually is happening. Common examples of this would be left arm pain from a heart attack or right shoulder pain from a gall bladder issue.  The “growing pains” felt in the leg during childhood and the discomfort of restless leg syndrome may actually be from instability within the foot and ankle complex that leads to pain and discomfort that is physically felt in the legs.


Treatment for “growing pains” in your child, or “restless leg syndrome” in an adult may be as simple as providing the right support for your feet.  At Kansas City Foot and Ankle, the doctors can fabricate a pair of custom orthotics that fit right into the shoes and provide the exact support needed for your or your child’s individual feet.  They are very effective in treating a variety of painful conditions including flat feet, heel and arch pain, Achilles tendinitis and, as we now know, “growing pains”.


If your child is having growing pains at night or if you have restless leg syndrome, the best course of action is to be evaluated by the specialists at Kansas City Foot and Ankle.  By treating the mechanical instability of the foot and ankle, relief may be in sight for both conditions.  Call your Kansas City foot pain specialists today at 816-943-1111.