‘Growing pain’ is a generic term for aches experienced during childhood and adolescence, affecting the arm and leg muscles—commonly in the calf, front of the thigh or behind the knees. The pain is often worse in the afternoon or evening and sometimes can wake a child from their sleep. The cause is not known and it does not cause any long-term problems.
There are other causes for growing pains that are common in active children and adolescents. Apophysitis is a common diagnosis for pain and occurs at the attachment site for muscles and their tendons. Symptoms relate to the growth area of the tendon attachment to the bone. These tendon attachments can be carefully assessed by a physiotherapist, who will then give you an exercise management plan to prevent overuse of the area during sport.
There are two types of sports injuries: traumatic and overuse—or acute and chronic. An injury that occurs suddenly, such as a sprained ankle caused by an awkward landing, is known as an acute injury. Up to 60 per cent of all sporting injuries in adolescents affect the ankle.
Chronic injuries are caused by repeated overuse of muscle groups or joints and include cramps, tears and strains. With increased exposure to sport in the adolescence period, there is higher risk of overusing the muscles, tendons and bones.
In adolescent children with a joint injury (sprain), the growth plate of the joint may be injured. The growth plate is the area where the bone grows throughout childhood until the skeleton is mature.
Commonly, the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) inside the knee can be injured in cutting, landing and twisting sport activity. In contact and dodging sports, there is a reported increase in the amount of these injuries, particularly in girls (up to eight times that in boys).
What are important measures to take to prevent injury or re-injury?
Before starting a sport, adequate warm up with emphasis on cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and coordinated skills is important, as well as nutrition and hydration. It is important to avoid heavy fatigue as tired muscles stiffen and lose the ability to freely work, which increases risk of strain during quick activity.
Adequate recovery is also very important. Some adolescent children play for several teams and several sports, increasing their exposure risk to injury. During growing years, it is recommended a child receives a minimum of eight hours sleep and good nutrition to prevent chronic and overuse injuries.
Good equipment such as correct shoe type and fit, breathable sports clothing, mouth guards and helmets are vital in injury prevention. Suitable supervision and umpiring to maintain fair play is also essential for safe play in organised sport and recreational activities.