Four year old waking up with leg pain?

What could be causing an otherwise healthy four year old child to wake up howling in agony with leg pain? It has been happening sporadically over the last two months or so, maybe a total of four nights in that span. The Little Lagomorph goes to bed as usual, everything is fine, then he wakes up an hour or two later howling. The first couple of times we couldn’t guess what was wrong and he couldn’t tell us. Finally we figured out his leg was hurting, maybe both. The pain seems to be coming from the shin/calf/ankle area but he is not coherent enough at these times to even answer questions. Ibuprofen seems to help then he finally falls asleep again. In the morning everything is normal.

There is nothing visibly wrong with his legs, no bruises or anything. He isn’t limping or complaining of pain during the day. He is a normal active kid.

My wife has an appointment scheduled with the pediatrician on Thursday to discuss this but I was wondering if anyone else had any ideas or similar experiences? It just happened again tonight and frankly it leaves Mrs. Lagomorph and I a little frazzled. In fact she might be moving the appointment up if possible.

You might try giving the wee one calcium suppliments. For some strange reason, I’ve found that if I’m not getting enough calcium I get leg cramps like you wouldn’t believe. It’s worth a shot, and since most kids don’t get enough calcium these days, it couldn’t hurt.

I agree on checking his mineral intakes. I’ve found I have more leg cramps when I’m running low on ions, especially calcium and potassium. You probably don’t even have to go with supplements; just let the kid eat more cheese and drink milk (calcium, mostly) and eat bananas (potassium) and so on. Of course, if it continues (or you’re thinking about supplements) go to a doctor.

I remember having “leg ache” as a youngster. They are often referred to as “growing pains” and as I understand it are often a symptom of a spurt of rapid growth.

I searched “children leg ache” and found a few sites.

Probably not serious but definitely don’t put off following through with the pediatrician appointment.

My younger daughter had leg pain like this when she was 4-5 years old. Our pediatrician couldn’t find anything wrong with her. We settled for giving her daily vitamins with mineral supplements in them (the ones formulated for kids, of course) and we gave her Tylenol or ibuprofen when she woke up in pain. I always found it interesting that she seemed to calm down and go back to sleep almost immediately after taking a pill, even though there was no way it could have started working that quickly. I don’t doubt that she was truly in pain, though, because it woke her out of a sound sleep.

I’m still not sure what exactly caused the pains or why they went away. She had occasional bouts of pain when she was a little older, too, but I suspect they were garden-variety muscle aches or pain from standard variety bumps and bruises.

Note: This is just my personal case. YMMV.

I had them bad when I was a kid. Actually went away during the big teen growth years. But still get them on occasion. I tried various things but as a child the only thing that helped was heat on the shins. I was diagnosed with “tight tendons”. (Still have them.) I tried to stretch the tendons by pointing the toe down. After all, the pain was on the front of the shins. After many years, I realized the pain is caused by tight calf muscles, so stretching them works like a charm. If I had only known this when I was a kid…

In my case, Calcium supplements makes things worse.

I also had the most horrible leg pain (“growing pains”) when I was a child. My son had them as well, when he was about 5 or so. The poor kid would wake up just in agony. Good that you’re going to see a doctor to rule out anything more serious, but I suspect you’ll find that it’s just “one of those things”.

As the victim and a parent of a victim of the horrendous pains, my thoughts are with you and your boy :slight_smile:

I have this problem. Basically, I’ll wake up in agony. My calf – and to my recollection, it’s always the right one – will be completely tense and rigid, much more so than I can willingly do. If you point your foot and tense up your calf, you’ll get a slight uncomfortable feeling. Keep doing it and it gets worse. Multiply that feeling tens of times over to the point of being bad enough to nearly scream uncontrollably, and that’s what it feels like. Yes, I have started screaming, but now that I’ve had it happen many times I can usually bite my lip and get by with only whispering panicked obscenities.

The only thing I’ve found that works is to rub the calf and massage it loose. This hurts like nothing else, but it will finally release. Then, be very careful not to tense it and relax.

Usually this is connected to potassium intake and exercise. A lot of activity without eating a banana or two and I’ll be in agony the night after with about 75% certainty. I’ve had it only a few times in my adult years, and it has either been a time of poor diet or exceptional exertion, and usually both put together.

Since taking vitamins, it’s never happened. Could be a coincidence, but I tend to get slight (much lower intensity) side cramps during moderate exercise where the potassium intake definitely helps, and I’ve noticed corrolation.

This is an oddly timed thread. Three nights ago I woke up with insane leg pain, the mother of all cramps, right in my left calf. I couldn’t touch the calf for at least 15 minutes because it hurt so bad. I did manage to get to sleep an hour later, but I still had the pain when I woke up.

The next day I tried rubbing it loose, my wife tried working on it, I put heat on it, cold on it,. nothing really seemed to help. This nasty knot just wouldn’t let go.

I asked a friend of mine who is in massage school what I should do. He said do not rub it! Instead I should stretch the calf by either:

  1. laying on my back and have someone push on the top of my foot (like they’re making me point my toes) while I resist

  2. Keep my knee straight while I lean forward on the foot (causing my toes to angle towards my knee,. if that makes any sence)

So, last night I did just that. Today I woke up with very slight pain. I don’t feel it walking around but it still hurts a bit to the touch -which is a million times better then before I did the stretches.

While I don’t know what’s up with Little Lagomorph, but you might want to have him stretch the calf before bedtime. You could make a game out of it (hold his feet while he resists)

If you try it I’d be interested to know if it works or not.

Does it help him to stand on the leg that hurts?

Another “It used to happen to me” response - for reasons unknown, I would get very bad cramps in my calfs (calves?). I still get them on rare occasions. I found the best way for dealing with them is to pull my foot back as far as I can. IE, if I were sitting in bed with my leg extended, I’d grab my foot by the toes and try to point it at the ceiling. Basically, I’d stretch the calf as much as I could.

Hope this helps.

Just to clarify my pain (and my sons as far as I could tell) was in the thigh/shin/ankle area - it felt as if my bones were hurting. Not at all like a Charley horse, which I used to also get when I was pregnant.

I’m not sure. Usually at these times he is unable to communicate coherently, and can barely follow our directions (“Please point to where it hurts! Mommy and Daddy don’t know!”). I noticed that last about 5 minutes after he woke up that he was able to stand up without apparent discomfort. Part of the problem is that he is also so tired at these times that he desperately wants to go back to bed.

Thanks for all your input. I see though that there seems to be a range of experience (rub, don’t rub, stretch, flex, calcium makes it better, calcium makes it worse!). We started giving him his children’s vitamin again today…we had stopped for a while but he could probably use it anyway.

We are going to the doctor for just this reason on Thursday but I am not too hopeful that they will determine the cause…my experience with primary care pediatricians is that they are not very good at determining the cause of unusual symptoms (believe me, I could write a book but that is a whole other subject). If anything definitive comes out of it I will report back here.

My kids had the same exact thing. Pain on the shin, woke them up in the middle of the night, Tylenol helping right away. Often I would get some lotion and massage the area for them, and that seemed to calm them down. They pretty much just outgrew it. Good luck!

Childhood memories… rushing back…

I remember the awful pain. Not a muscle ache/charlie horse kind of thing, but pain in the shin/knee area (the front of the leg). I would wake up crying from the pain and my parents didn’t know what to do about it.

If I remember correctly (it was, like, 30 years ago), my mother would rub Ben-Gay on my legs and eventually I would fall asleep again. Eventually they stopped; I guess I just outgrew them.

My parents just blamed it on “growing pains.” Like others have suggested this is probally the case for your son.

Glad you’ve made a pediatric appointment.
One consideration, though slight, is a urinary tract infection which can manifest symptoms much like you describe.

If this thread showed anything, it is that it’s hardly an unusual symptom.

I’m sure your boy will be fine. Keeping my fingers crossed.

You can probably figure out whether it’s a cramp-type pain or not by simply feeling his legs. Cramped muscles are hard to the touch. If it is growing pains, where the bones hurt, the muscles will be loose and relaxed.

I used to have terrible growing pains. Standing on the hurting legs helped a little, but didn’t let me get back to sleep.


Sounds like growing pains. All 3 of my kids have had them around 4-5, to a greater or lesser degree. The pain always manifests in the tibia, just below the knee (at a growth plate) and I remember this pain from my own childhood.

For my daughters, there is a homeopathic remedy (option 1), Tylenol or Motrin (option 2) and the good old heat treatment (option 3) - a hot water bottle, or some dry white rice in a cotton sock, microwaved until warm but not hot enough to burn (usually 1 minute in my microwave oven). We like the ‘rice pack’ best because it molds to the leg and the heat lasts at least a half hour. We try the hot pack first.

I certainly wouldn’t discourage the doctor’s visit, but in the meantime, try the hot pack. It’s easy, fast, reusable, and appears to give immediate and blessed relief.