Thumbnail image of: Pain Diary: Illustration

Muscle Pain (Cramps and Strains)

What is muscle pain?

When your child complains of pain in the arm or leg muscles it is usually from a muscle cramp or strain. This type of pain is usually not caused by a specific injury. Muscle pain often follows vigorous or excessive exercise (overuse).

What is the cause?

There are two main causes of muscle pain.

  • Brief muscle pain is usually due to a cramp. Foot or calf muscles are especially prone to cramps that can awaken a child from sleep. Cramps become more frequent in children who do not get enough calcium. Muscle cramps during exercise in hot weather are called heat cramps. They are usually a sign of early dehydration.
  • Continuous pains are usually due to strenuous activity (muscle overuse) or forgotten muscle injuries during the preceding day. Examples of overuse injuries are shoulder pains following excessive throwing or thigh pains from excessive jumping.

How can I take care of my child?

  • Treatment for muscle cramps

    Muscle cramps occur in a third of all children. During attacks, stretch the painful muscle by pulling the foot and toes upward as far as they will go to break the spasm. Massaging the painful muscle with an ice pack is also effective. Future attacks may be prevented by daily stretching exercises of the heel cords (lean forward at the ankles with the knees straight). Also be sure that your child is getting enough calcium. Milk, dairy products, and calcium-fortified orange juice are good sources of calcium. If your child has heat cramps, drinking extra water and eating salty foods can help.

  • Treatment for strained muscles

    Put a cold pack or ice bag on the sore muscles for 20 minutes. Repeat this 3 or 4 times a day for 2 days. If the muscles are still stiff on the third day, have your child take a hot bath for 20 minutes and gently exercise the hurt muscle under water. Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for the pain.

When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?


  • The muscle pain is severe AND persists more than 2 hours after your child takes pain medicine.
  • A joint becomes swollen.
  • Your child starts acting very sick.

Call during office hours if:

  • The pain persists more than 7 days.
  • You have other concerns or questions.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-06-19
Last reviewed: 2014-06-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 Barton D. Schmitt, MD. All rights reserved.

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