Up to one third of children may be diagnosed with growing pains, but considerable uncertainty surrounds how to make this diagnosis. The objective of this study was to detail the definitions of growing pains in the medical literature.
Scoping review with 8 electronic databases and 6 diagnostic classification systems searched from their inception to January 2021. The study selection included peer-reviewed articles or theses referring to “growing pain(s)” or “growth pain(s)” in relation to children or adolescents. Data extraction was performed independently by 2 reviewers.
We included 145 studies and 2 diagnostic systems (ICD-10 and SNOMED). Definition characteristics were grouped into 8 categories: pain location, age of onset, pain pattern, pain trajectory, pain types and risk factors, relationship to activity, severity and functional impact, and physical examination and investigations. There was extremely poor consensus between studies as to the basis for a diagnosis of growing pains. The most consistent component was lower limb pain, which was mentioned in 50% of sources. Pain in the evening or night (48%), episodic or recurrent course (42%), normal physical assessment (35%), and bilateral pain (31%) were the only other components to be mentioned in more than 30% of articles. Notably, more than 80% of studies made no reference to age of onset in their definition, and 93% did not refer to growth. Limitations of this study are that the included studies were not specifically designed to define growing pains.
There is no clarity in the medical research literature regarding what defines growing pain. Clinicians should be wary of relying on the diagnosis to direct treatment decisions.