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Have you ever experienced waking up to your toddler complaining of foot pain? For new parents, it can be quite confusing and upsetting when they wake up in the middle of the night with their 3-year-old complaining of foot pain. Some nights, your child may wake up complaining of shin pain; other nights, they may complain of foot pain — sometimes on both the legs and other times on just one foot.
These pains may move around different parts of your child’s leg and may continue for several nights before they mysteriously disappear. If this happens, your child may be suffering from growing pains.
Growing Pains in Children
Growing pains can be described as an ache in your child’s leg muscles. These pains occur more frequently in preschoolers and preteens, usually in the late afternoon and evening, though many may feel pain in their foot in the middle of the night, which may wake them up from their sleep.
Growing pains usually start after your child has reached 3 years of age and may last until the age of 5. They sometimes reoccur in kids aged between 8 and 12 years.
Growing pains are not a disease, and most pains do not require a visit to the doctor. However, child foot pain at night can be quite upsetting, and it is difficult to see your child in pain. Despite the name “growing pains,” doctors have found no evidence that growth spurts result in pain. However, these pains do disappear once a child reaches their teenage years.
Health experts suspect that growing pains may simply be aches and pains that develop due to intense childhood activity that wear your child out. These activities can be jumping, running, and climbing, and they can increase the risk of your child complaining of foot pain at night.
Foot Pain in Children: When Should I Worry?
Foot pain can develop gradually over time, particularly if your child is participating in a lot of physical activities. Overuse injuries are common in children who are involved in competitive sports and have to train rigorously, but these injuries are usually resolved with a bit of rest and some common home remedies.
However, you should be concerned if your child’s foot pain is:
- Long-lasting and persistent
- Is still present when they wake up in the morning
- Is located in the joint areas
- Severe enough that the child cannot easily walk
- Is accompanied by redness, swelling, tenderness, limping, rash, fever, and fatigue.
These symptoms may point to other serious injuries, like Achilles tendonitis or Plantar fasciitis, which can lead to serious conditions or chronic pain.
When to Seek Treatment
The good thing about growing pains is that they do not usually require a doctor’s intervention and often go away on their own with time, or at least become less painful. However, if the pain is persistent, you may need to seek treatment.
Due to the high level of physical activity, toddler foot pain at night is pretty common. However, because of this, it can be easy for signs and symptoms of other more serious underlying conditions to go unnoticed. To ensure your child’s foot health, make sure you seek treatment if your child’s foot is cramping, their ankles are turning inward more than usual, the arches of their feet are flattening, or if your child is limping.
Some foot conditions that your child may suffer from include:
Flat feet occur in children whose feet are not sufficiently arched when they are standing barefoot on the ground. Children who are younger than 3 years of age do not develop arches. However, after age 3, if your child continues to have flat feet after they reach 5 years of age, they may often complain of toddler foot pain at night.
Most children have flexible flat feet; this means that when they stand up, their arch falls flat, but when they raise their big toe, the arch appears again. Children who have flat feet often walk with their toes curled inward to balance themselves better.
Flat feet usually do not cause a lot of pain, but sometimes they can. Children who experience more foot pain may have rigid flat feet. Rigid flat feet usually occur in teenagers who complain of foot pain all the time. As their bones grow, their feet get more rigid, and the ligaments tighten, resulting in foot pain.
Sever’s disease is also known as a painful heel or Calcaneal apophysitis, and occurs due to a growth palate disturbance in kids who participate in intense sports activities. Symptoms include foot pain in children at the bottom of the foot or the back of the heel. This condition can worsen, causing your child to limp.
Sever’s disease is the most common cause of heel pain in American children aged 5 to 11. This injury is caused by the repetitive pull of the Achilles tendon on the growing heel bone. Warmth and tenderness can also occur. Causes include jumping, running, playing basketball, and soccer.
Achilles tendinitis is marked by pain in the back of the foot and heel. When the Achilles tendon is inflamed, it can become painful, cause swelling, and result in walking difficulties. Initially, the pain may be mild, but it can gradually worsen, particularly if your child does not get any rest.
Children who are involved in sports with repetitive activities like jumping, running, and pivoting can develop this condition.
Plantar fasciitis is a common overuse injury that occurs when the plantar fascia, the flat band of ligaments which spans the length of your foot from the heel to the front, becomes irritated. Symptoms of plantar fasciitis include pain in the bottom of the feet, tightness, and tenderness in the arch of the foot, and difficulty walking.
Risk factors for plantar fasciitis include increased activities, sports involving jumping or running, wearing poorly fitted shoes, or standing for long periods of time.
Tarsal coalitions usually occur in children aged between 9 and 14. This occurs when the two bones at the back of your foot fuse together, creating a bone bridge. This can result in limited motion due to stiffness, and can be quite painful.
Some parents believe that their children will grow out of conditions like a flat foot; however, this is not true. A comprehensive medical diagnosis is needed to determine whether the foot problem requires monitoring or treatment.
Most toddler foot pain can resolve themselves with home remedies and other conservative measures like icing, heating, elevation, compression, or massages. However, prolonged foot pain can mean something more serious than growing pains.
Home Remedies for Foot Pain in Children
If your child is complaining of foot pain at night, you should determine a treatment plan in consultation with a podiatrist or foot doctor. The age of your child and the severity of the foot condition also play a part in deciding what treatment you should opt for.
Some initial countermeasures for foot pain include rest, custom-made orthotic shoes, and anti-inflammatory medicines. If these treatments are not effective and fail to reduce the symptoms of foot pain, other aggressive treatments may be required.
A lot of time, growing pains may just be your child’s muscles cramping. Some children get painful cramps in their feet and calves while they are sleeping, which can cause them to wake up. Adults get these too. These cramps can make your toes curl in painfully and cause a knot in your calf.
The best treatment for these cramps is to stretch the muscles by firmly pushing your child’s toes up, stretching their calf, or massaging the Achilles tendon. If this happens repetitively, you can mix in magnesium supplement with warm milk and give it to your child to drink during bedtime. Make sure you ask your doctor what the proper dose of magnesium is for your child. This can be an effective way to get rid of muscle cramps.
If your child’s feet are sore, they may respond well to a gentle massage. You can also apply gentle pressure to the nerve endings on your child’s feet, as this is said to relieve discomfort not just in the feet but in other parts of the body as well.
Using a heating pad can also help your child’s muscles relax. Place a heating pad on a low setting or a hot water bottle beneath your child’s feet or legs during their bedtime. Remove the heat source once the child falls asleep. A warm bath in the night may also help them to sleep.
You can also give your child some over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen and paracetamol to help alleviate their pain. Do not use aspirin as it is linked to Reye’s syndrome in children, particularly those who are recovering from the flu or a chickenpox infection. Reyes syndrome is a rare but serious condition, which results in the swelling of the liver and brain.
Bottom Line on Foot Pain in Children
As children grow, they may experience various pains and aches. Although sports and physical activity have many health benefits, they can sometimes result in muscle overuse or injury. If you leave these injuries untreated, they will only worsen with time.
If your child suffers from foot pain, you should get them properly examined by a doctor. If the condition is only related to growing pains, it can easily be treated at home.