No clear medical definition of ‘growing pains’

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We often hear the phrase ‘growing pains’ used by the general public to describe muscle or joint pain in young people and the term is also used by health professionals. However researchers have found there is no consistent medical definition of the condition behind a diagnosis.

A review of medical literature found there is no agreement among researchers and clinicians on what growing pains really are, what they mean, how they are defined, and how they should be diagnosed. The term may be a medical misnomer. The definitions were really variable, vague and often contradictory. Some studies suggested growing pains happened in the arms, or in the lower body. Some said it was about muscles while other studies said joints.

Surprisingly, more than 93 percent of studies reviewed did not refer to growth when defining the condition.  The findings have prompted the researchers to recommend the term growing pains not be used by clinicians and other researchers as a stand-alone diagnosis, until a clear definition backed by evidence has been established.

Growing pains are considered to be one of the most common causes of recurring musculoskeletal pain in children and adolescents. Some studies suggest up to a third of children experience the condition at some point in their life. The term first emerged in 1823 in a book called ‘Maladies de la Croissance’ (‘diseases of growth’).  Forty-eight percent of studies reported they happen during the evening or night and 42 percent reported it was recurring.

“While ‘growing pains’ is a very popular label used to diagnose musculoskeletal pain, it means very different things to different people.  This level of uncertainty means clinicians don’t have a clear guide or criteria to know when the label might be appropriate for a patient'”

There is a lack of evidence or inconsistent information on growing pains as a condition — and how it is associated with growth, or even the cause of the pain,. There is a real opportunity to understand this condition — given how widespread the use of the term is, or whether there is even a need to use this term.

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