Limb Pain

Symptom Definition

  • Pains in the arms or legs
  • The pain is not due to a known injury
  • Main Causes: muscle spasms and strained muscles from overuse (eg excessive throwing and jumping)
  • Brief pains (1 to 15 minutes) are usually due to muscle spasms. Foot or calf muscles are especially prone to cramps that awaken from sleep
  • Continuous acute pains (hours to 3 days) are usually due to overstrenuous activities or forgotten muscle injuries during the preceding day
  • Serious causes: fractures or swollen joints (arthritis)

See More Appropriate Topic

Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If

  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • Swollen joint or can’t move joint fully
  • Calf pain on 1 side lasts > 12 hours
  • Bright red area on skin
  • Muscle weakness or can’t stand or walk
  • Tingling (pins and needles) sensation present > 1 hour
  • Severe pain or cries when limb touched or moved

Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 and 4) If

  • You think your child needs to be seen
  • Fever is present
  • Pain makes child walk abnormally (has limp)

Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If

  • You have other questions or concerns
  • Cause of limb pain is uncertain
  • Limb pain present > 7 days
  • Limb pains are a recurrent problem

Parent Care at Home If

  • Caused by muscle cramps in the calf or foot
  • Caused by strained muscles
  • Cause is obvious and harmless (e.g. tight new shoes, a shot within last 24 hours)

Home Care Advice for Muscle Cramps Or Muscle Strains

  1. Treatment For Muscle Cramps
    • Muscle cramps in the feet or calf muscles occur in a third of children
    • During attacks, stretch the painful muscle by pulling the foot and toes upward as far as they will go to break the spasm
    • Stretch the muscle in the direction opposite to how it is being pulled by the cramp or spasm
    • Massage the painful muscle with an ice pack for 20 minutes
    • If these are heat cramps (occurring during exercise on a hot day), give lots of water to drink in addition to stretching the muscle and an ice pack
    • Future attacks may be prevented by daily stretching exercises of the heel cords. (Stand with the knees straight and stretch the ankles by leaning forward against a wall.) Also give the feet more room to move at night by placing a pillow under the covers at the foot of the bed
  2. Treatment For Strained Muscles
    • Massage the sore muscles with ice for 20 minutes several times on the first 2 days
    • Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain relief
    • If stiffness persists > 48 hours, have your child relax in a hot bath for 20 minutes twice a day, and gently exercise the involved part under water
  3. Expected Course: Muscle cramps usually last 5 to 30 minutes. Once they resolve, the muscle returns to normal quickly. A strained muscle hurts for 2 or 3 days. The pain often peaks on day 2
  4. Call Your Doctor If
    • Muscle cramps occur more frequently
    • Child develops a limp, a swollen joint, or a fever
    • Pain caused by work or exercise persists > 7 days
    • Pain becomes worse
    • Your child becomes worse or develops any of the “Call Your Doctor” symptoms