G2 is my active child. He is always in motion even when he’s engaged in a “sedentary” activity. He can read rolling around and play the iPad with his bottom jiggling to the beat of music only he can hear. “Walk” is not in his vocabulary – only running, skipping, and jumping. He is also a child with a high tolerance for pain and he often meets with bumps and scrapes that we never hear about until we see the bruise appear. Even the falls that we observe, he often brushes aside as “nothing” unless it is REALLY BAD.
Recently, he complained that his leg hurt. When we asked about it, he was rather vague about the nature of the pain…
Me: Where does it hurt?
G2: My leg.
Me: Where on your leg? Point to it.
G2 waves vaguely to his right leg that could be anywhere from below his knee to his foot. I examine his entire leg and I cannot see any signs that might suggest the cause of the pain. Some months back, he had complained of vague pains in his leg. I asked the doctor about it and he put it down to “growing pains”.
About Growing Pains
It sounds like some fictitious syndrome that is an old wives’ tale than a real medical condition but it exists. It basically refers to any unexplained nerve pain that occurs in the limbs of about 25 to 40% of young children between the age of 3 to 5 years old, and 8 to 12 years old. It usually occurs when your child has had a particularly active day – lots of running, jumping and climbing (which sounds like any typical day for G2). Complaints about pain usually occur in the late afternoon or evening and it can sometimes wake your child up. There are no signs to show anything wrong with the child’s limbs – joints look fine, no bruises, redness, or swelling of any kind. These pains pass on their own but symptomatic treatment can be given to help your child through it, such as massaging the area, stretching, placing a heating pad on the area, or giving pain medication like ibuprofen.
The first time G2 complained about his leg pain, this was exactly the scenario – he had complained just before bed and he had woken up crying in the middle of the night. It had been an extra active day because he attended a play date after school where he was running around with his friends.
The Sprained Ankle
I thought the recent leg pain was another bought of growing pains. I thought it would pass after a good night’s rest but he complained again the next day. We looked at his leg again and noticed that his ankle looked slightly swollen. G2 often stumbles while walking with no consequence for much of the time – this was his first sprained ankle and we missed it because he is such a rough and tumble boy.
Sprained ankles can occur when you stumble walking on uneven ground, slip while walking downhill or twist your ankle while placing your body weight on it. Depending on the severity, it can stretch or tear the ligament. The recommended treatment is – RICE:
- Rest – stay off the ankle
- Ice – hold a cold compress for 20 to 30 minutes; repeat every 3 to 4 hours until the swelling is gone.
- Compression – wrap the ankle with a bandage or ankle brace.
- Elevation – keep the leg elevated while sitting or lying.
RICE is great for adults, but not so easy to follow with a child like G2. He would walk on the ankle despite being told to stay off it. He would shift the ice pack around and put it on various other parts of his body when we weren’t looking. The only time we could elevate his leg was while he was in bed for the night and even then his leg didn’t stay elevated.
In the end, we used our trusty Tiger Balm Ointment which seemed to help relieve the pain. The pain wasn’t too bad so we didn’t need any pain medication but paracetamol and ibuprofen can help if it is particularly bad.
It is also important to rehabilitate the ankle with ankle exercises:
- ankle alphabet – using the ankle and foot only, trace letters of the alphabet in the air
- foot circles – draw circles in the air 10 times
- foot pushes – push the foot up and down 10 times
- calf stretch – with your child seated and leg straight, hold on to the foot and pull it towards your child’s face. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.