What a pain! What’s the deal with growth spurts?


File photo. File photo.

The biggest growth spurts for children occur in the first year and then again around puberty. The first year of life is an incredible time of growth in all areas—height, weight, and head circumference. The most significant growth spurts usually take place around seven to 10 days of life and again between three to six weeks. Amazingly, most babies will double their birth weight by six months and triple their birth weight by a year of age.

After age 2, children have reached half their adult height and will continue to grow around two to three inches per year and four to seven pounds per year. As any parent of teenagers will notice, the last significant growth spurt occurs in conjunction with puberty—in general at about age 8 to 13 years old in girls and 10 to 15 years old in boys. Parental height (genetics) still plays the most important role in predicting ultimate height for children.

Growing pains occur in about 25 to 40 percent of children, most commonly in children age 3 to 5 years old and again in 8 to 12-year-olds. No link has been found between growing pains and growth spurts—in other words, it is not growing muscles and bones that cause the aching.

Growing pains are most likely due to the running, jumping, and increased physical activity that occurs daily in the lives of active children. Most kids describe these pains as sharp, throbbing, and occurring at night, and usually complain of the pain in thighs, calves, or behind the knees. They can be one-sided but typically occur in both legs (and much less commonly in arms). Growing pains usually respond well to massage, stretching, heating pads, and the occasional dose of ibuprofen or acetaminophen. If the pain occurs during the day, in the joints, or if the legs appear red or swollen, the child should be evaluated by your pediatrician.

What does it mean when your doctor whizzes through percentiles during your visit? Growth charts help to compare your child to other children the same age and gender. Percentiles help to show how your child is growing compared to the average heights and weights for his/her age and gender. It is not better to be bigger (percentiles greater than 50 percent) or smaller (percentiles less than 50 percent). However, it is most important that your child be proportional and that she grow consistently from year to year. A dramatic change in percentiles warrants a visit to your pediatrician. An even better measure of your child’s individual growth is the body mass index (BMI), a calculation that uses height and weight to estimate how much body fat a child has. Pediatricians use it to determine how appropriate a child’s weight is for a certain height and age and to determine if a child is underweight, appropriate for age, overweight, or obese.—Paige Perriello