Childhood Family

Growing pains

There are lots of folks who will tell you that “growing pains” are not a real thing.

These are doctors, with years of experience and gobs of research under their belt. The Mayo Clinic even says this on their website:

“Although these pains are called growing pains, there’s no evidence that growth hurts. Growing pains may be linked to a lowered pain threshold or, in some cases, to psychological issues.”

Fine. There may be no evidence that growth hurts. It may be all in our heads. But I can tell you this much: Growth sure does seem to hurt.

I base this on two very simple case studies, set about 30 years apart. The first was me, when I was about 12. The second is my son, who is currently 12.

I don’t know what was hurting either of us, but it sure seemed tied to growing.

I remember sulking down to my parents’ bedroom when I was that age. I just didn’t feel … right. Everything hurt. My pediatrician was an old school doctor who, I am fairly certain, was actually pulled out of a Norman Rockwell painting. This is the man who, when I broke my leg skateboarding as a kid, told me that if I wanted to keep seeing him as a doctor, I had to get rid of my skateboard. I got rid of my skateboard.

He told my parents I was having growing pains, and that I would be OK. He told me that I was growing up, and I would hurt for a while, but it would end soon.

But that was way back in the 20th century. Times have changed, right? Maybe not.

My son woke up the other night and came downstairs, clearly out of sorts. I asked him what was wrong. “I feel like my bones are going west and my skin is going east,” he said.

Mayo Clinic, I respect that you are one of the premier medical institutions in the world. I also respectfully dispute your growing pains assessment.

I have no medical background. I have not done research on thousands of patients. But I do know this — when I hit a growth spurt and grew six inches in a year, I hurt. Bad. And my son is going through it now, and while I would love to explain to him that his pains are not actually tied to growth and refer him to some medical journals, I think the easiest course of action right now is to say, “Yep. Growing pains. And you’re going to be OK.”

Girls are far different in this aspect. I am the father of a teenage girl, and the little brother to three sisters. I know full well that there is a starter’s pistol that gets fired when girls’ bodies start changing. But there isn’t that for boys. There’s just … your bones going one way, your skin going the other way.

I’m not one to reject science or medicine or the great work they do in helping us explain who we are and how we function. But I’m also a dad, and I’m also a guy who vividly remembers how awful it felt to go through a change that truly felt like it was pulling my body apart.

So maybe his aches and pains are not due to growing. I’m not going to try and assume my case study of two trumps years of research from doctors. But I do know this: In a year or so, he won’t be hurting and feeling like his skeleton is trying to make a break for it. And he’ll probably be a few inches taller. Growing pains may be an anachronistic term for something we don’t understand, but it sure helps me relate to my son when he’s feeling miserable.

So for now, with all due respect to the medical professionals in the world, Dr. Mike is going to go ahead and diagnose my son with growing pains. And if he had a skateboard, I’d probably consider telling him he had to get rid of it.

Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C. A graduate of the University of Alabama, he now lives in Charleston. You can e-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.

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