Is it “just” Growing Pains?

I was stretching with my U13 soccer team after a scrimmage.  Through a chorus of moans and evident wincing one player told me, “Coach, no one in my class can touch their toes.”  Her teammates nodded in agreement. Yep, tight muscles in longer limbs are natural when they’re growing.  But does that mean pain is on its way? 

The term “growing pains” used to refer to the aching joints (usually knees) of high school boys who sprouted several inches in just a few months.  Now, so many kids have pain in their growing years, I often get asked: “is it just growing pains?”  The implication: this is something they will grow out of, right?

Well, our 9-15 year old athletes are experiencing more chronic or long-lasting pain.  And it is commonly focused in areas where growth is occurring. Interestingly, their non-athletic classmates don’t have the same pains they do.

Athletes involved in running, cutting and jumping sports (like soccer, basketball and track and field) are predisposed to Osgood-Schlatter’s disease (pain below the knee cap) and Sever’s disease (pain in the back of the heel). These both occur where new bone is being laid down at sites where large muscles attach. Not coincidentally, these are the muscles we are asking our kids to work ever harder in their sports.  Attended to right away, these conditions respond well to conservative treatment: ice, rest and moderation of play.

The problem: our kids don’t want to rest and we say we “can’t afford” to limit our key players.  Unfortunately, this attitude increases recovery time.  To help our athletes through this time of great demand we need to:

  • Rest them.  Insist they play fewer minutes and at reduced intensity.
  • Teach proper stretching and be sure they perform it after proper warm up and after play. (consult for proper form)
  • Encourage bi-lateral and gradual strengthening apart from play. (consult for proper form)
  • Have them consult a health professional if the pain persists even after they have rested.  Have them return to play gradually and only when they can do so without pain.

Our kids are growing; this makes them fragile.  They are being pulled in many directions; this can make them break. Growth handled in a healthy way makes them stronger, fitter and more able to play.  It shouldn’t be painful.  Let’s be patient.  Growth is not a disease.  It’s our goal.

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