What Causes Growing Pains in Adults?

A woman in a white t-shirt, tan sweater cardigan, and jeans sits on a touch as she holds her left thigh and knee. She appears to be uncomfortable or in pain.
  • Growing pains in adults may have underlying causes that require medical treatment; real growing pains tend to occur mainly in children.
  • Serious conditions that may be mistaken for growing pain sensations include fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and bone cancer.
  • Leg pains that don’t resolve with treatment or rest may require a medical diagnosis.
  • Persistent leg or muscle pain that has no apparent cause should be reported to a healthcare provider.

Children are most commonly affected by growing pains. According to the American College of Rheumatology, up to half of all children have the condition at some point in their lives.

While growing pains cause discomfort, they’re typically harmless when they occur in children. However, growing pains in adults may be a sign of a more serious underlying medical condition.

In this article, we’ll go into detail about growing pains, including their symptoms, what can cause them in adults, how to find relief, and when to seek medical attention.

What Are Growing Pains?

Despite its name, growing pains do not refer to pain associated with growth. It is the most common musculoskeletal pain experienced by children, but the cause of the condition is yet to be determined.

Growing pains refer to deep aches and cramps that affect the legs — especially the calves, thighs, or behind the knees — though other parts of the body may also be affected.

This pain usually starts in the afternoon or evening and may either be mild, or severe enough to keep a child awake.

Children between the ages of three and twelve are usually affected by growing pains. Although adults may also experience symptoms associated with growing pains in children, these sensations are usually an indication of other medical conditions — more on this below.

What are growing pains symptoms?

The following are growing pains symptoms that occur in children. The pain sensations that adults experience might be slightly different, depending on the underlying condition they have.

  • Aching or throbbing in the legs.
  • The calves, front of the thighs, or area behind the knees are typically affected.
  • Both legs are affected by pain.
  • Pain may be felt in the arms, but it always occurs along with leg pain.
  • Headaches and abdominal pain may also occur.
  • Pain is intermittent (it comes and goes, and it doesn’t occur each day).
  • Pain starts in the afternoon or early evening.
  • Pain disappears by the morning.
  • A child may be woken by the pain at night.
What Are More Serious Symptoms in Children?

Growing pains are generally harmless, but muscle or leg pain that children experience could also be an indication of another medical condition.

If your child experiences any of the following symptoms, be sure to have a doctor evaluate them:

  • Persistent or worsening pain.
  • Localized pain (pain located in one part of the body).
  • Joint pain or stiffness in the mornings.
  • Swelling or redness in areas affected by pain.
  • Appetite loss and fatigue.
  • Pain that’s so severe that it affects your child’s daily activities.

Who is Most at Risk of Developing Growing Pains?

Children are most at risk of developing growing pains. Despite what its name suggests, the condition is not linked to rapid growth spurts experienced by kids or teenagers.

Some researchers believe that increased levels of daytime physical activity result in growing pains — this is the fatigue theory. This would explain why children, who typically are more physically active than adults, would be most affected by growing pains.

One study found that individuals who experienced growing pains have a lower pain threshold than those who do not experience them, but more research is needed.

A close-up of a young adult's legs in black stretch pants. They are not wearing any shoes or socks and are clutching their right calf and shin in both hands.

Can Adults Have Growing Pains?

Adults may experience sensations similar to growing pains, too. Sometimes they are harmless, but they may indicate an underlying condition.

If you’re experiencing uncomfortable sensations, like muscle pain and leg cramps — especially if there’s no apparent cause — contact your doctor. Any persistent pain may indicate a problem that needs to be addressed.

Treatments for growing pains will be determined by their underlying cause. We’ve listed the main causes and treatments below.

What Are the Causes and Treatments for Growing Pains in Adults?

Growing pain sensations in adults can indicate a number of conditions that require different treatments.

Occasional leg cramps may be the result of simply not warming up before going for your morning jog, but it could also be a symptom of something more serious.

If your pain does not resolve with OTC medication, or it worsens over time, visit your doctor for an assessment.

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)

Have you ever trained really hard in the gym or overexerted yourself doing chores and then thought, “I’m going to feel that tomorrow”? This is delayed onset muscle soreness.

DOMS is not a medical condition that requires a diagnosis, but it usually occurs after strenuous physical activity or when you’ve started a new workout regimen. It’s not necessarily a type of pain you should be concerned about.

Rest and massaging the affected area can ease DOMS muscle aches. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are also a good form of treatment, but DOMS generally improves when you give your body some time to recover.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition that affects the joints, such as the knees, wrists, and ankles. Women are more prone to this disease than men.

People with RA may have joints that are tender, swollen, and warm to the touch.

Other symptoms of the disease include fatigue, weakness, and pain or stiffness in joints on either side of the body (for example, both knees will be affected). RA may result in joint deformities over time.

Other parts of the body that can be affected by rheumatoid arthritis include the skin, lungs, heart, and blood vessels.

RA can be managed with OTC pain relief medication, steroid injections, or anti-inflammatory drugs. Lifestyle and dietary changes can also provide symptomatic relief.

Osteoarthritis (OA)

This is the most common form of arthritis in the U.S. Much like RA, it also causes tenderness and pain in the joints. However, osteoarthritis may also cause a creaking or grinding sensation in affected joints. OA can limit your range of motion.

Women over 50 are more likely to develop the condition, but genetics, repetitive movements, and obesity also increase your risk of developing OA.

Treatment for osteoarthritis includes acetaminophen, NSAIDs, and duloxetine.

Restless legs syndrome (RLS)

If you form part of the seven to 10 percent of the U.S. population who have restless legs syndrome, you’ll experience uncomfortable sensations in your legs that worsen during periods of rest.

RLS is regarded as both a sleep and movement disorder. If left untreated, it can cause concentration difficulties and sleep disturbances, and seriously affect your quality of life.

Symptoms of restless legs syndrome include a compulsion to move your legs that gets worse at night or when you’ve been inactive.

Treatment includes sleep medications, muscle relaxants, and medications like rotigotine and pramipexole that increase the brain’s dopamine levels.


People with fibromyalgia experience pain all over their bodies. It can be triggered by stress or a traumatic event, such as a major surgery.

Fibromyalgia can cause a persistent dull ache or throbbing pain. Leg pain is common with this condition.

Treatment options include pain relief medication, antidepressants, and anti-seizure medication.

Bone cancer

Bone cancer is rare and osteosarcoma — the most common of all bone cancers — affects around 1,000 people in the U.S. each year. Those most at risk are men, tall people, and those between the ages of 10 and 30.

Symptoms of bone cancer include bone pain that begins with tenderness and turns into a persistent ache that doesn’t ease up, not even during rest. There may also be a lump in the affected area, as well as swelling and redness.

Treatment for this type of cancer includes surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. Provided the cancer is localized (in other words, it has not spread to other parts of the body), there is a 77% five-year survival rate.


This is a bone infection caused by bacteria or fungi. It is a serious condition that can cause bone tissue death if left untreated.

Symptoms of the condition include pain, swelling, and redness in the affected area. General discomfort, fever, and nausea may also be experienced.

Those with compromised immune systems, such as people with diabetes or kidney failure, are more prone to infection.

Antibiotic treatment is typically prescribed for osteomyelitis, but surgery may be required if the infection has progressed.

When Are Growing Pains Serious?

Growing pains are generally harmless, but they’re uncommon in adults.

When an adult experiences persistent leg pain — especially if they haven’t been hitting the gym or doing extra chores — there may be an underlying cause.

If your legs hurt and the pain does not improve with OTC medication or rest, seek medical attention as soon as you can.

How Can I Find Relief from Growing Pains?

Here are a few simple things you can do to alleviate your pain or your child’s pain:

  • Massage therapy: Gently massage the affected areas.
  • Heat therapy: Use a heating pad, or run a warm bath or shower before bedtime.
  • Pain medications: Try OTC pain medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
  • Stretching: The correct leg stretches can help relieve pain in the thighs, calves, and joints. Your doctor or physical therapist will be able to guide you.
  • Vitamin D supplementation: Results from a study have shown that vitamin D deficiency is prevalent among children with growing pains; after taking vitamin D supplements, there was a significant decrease in pain experienced by study participants. This study has not been conducted on adults.
Man on a yoga mat on a hardwood floor. He has one leg in front of him and is stretching down toward it. There is a water bottle at his feet; behind him is an off-white couch with earth-colored cushions.

Where Can I Learn More About Growing Pains in Adults?

Do you experience leg cramps or muscle pain that affects your daily life? Are OTC medications not helping? It’s time to get to the bottom of your symptoms. Head over to LifeMD, where you can meet with a board-certified doctor or nurse from your smartphone, computer, or tablet.

Dr. Asunta Moduthagam

Dr. Moduthagam has been a family medicine physician since 2011. She loves working with patients to help them reach an optimal state of well-being. She’s dedicated to thoughtful, compassionate care and is committed to being her patients’ best advocate.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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