Growing pains have long been the subject of speculation and research, and this condition of childhood continues to puzzle. The Pain Research Unit at Sydney Children's Hospital is unravelling some of the mystery of this condition with the help of nearly 3000 TRA families.
The study’s chief investigator, Professor David Champion, believes that the term growing pains is a misnomer since growth doesn’t appear relevant to the cause. Perhaps the term is popular because the pain is typically felt during periods of rapid growth during childhood.
The condition is characterized by periodic and irregular pains in both legs, and often the arms, usually occurring during the night. Interestingly, it doesn’t lead to a significant limitation in activity or limping during the day.
“Growing pains are common in childhood, especially in the age range from three to 12 years, peaking at four to six years,” he says. “Up to 30 percent or more children experience this disorder at least for three months.
“Growing pains share with headaches and recurrent abdominal pain, the status of the most common pain disorder of young childhood.”
The researchers have found there is a significant connection between growing pains and restless legs syndrome – and that there appears to be a genetic component to them.
It is this relationship that has prompted an approach to a new group of TRA families. As well as growing pains, researchers are now investigating common pain conditions during childhood which occur without an obvious reason, known as functional pain disorders. Examples of functional pain disorders include migraine, headaches, recurrent abdominal pain, growing pains and some types of back pain.
It seems that functional pain disorders may run in families, and they can occur in association with each other. There is evidence that these disorders, particularly in combination, predict risk of chronic pain in adolescence. This new approach aims to investigate the possibility of a genetic basis to various pain disorders in childhood.