growing pains

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plural noun
dull, quasi-rheumatic pains of varying degree in the limbs during childhood and adolescence, often popularly associated with the process of growing.
emotional difficulties experienced during adolescence and preadulthood.
difficulties attending any new project or any rapid development of an existing project: a city plagued with growing pains.
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Origin of growing pains

First recorded in 1800–10
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does growing pains mean?

Originally a reference to the physical pains many children experience when going through a growth spurt, growing pains has come to refer to the hardships experienced at the early stages of some endeavor.

The term is frequently used to describe the struggles found in transitioning from an adolescent to an adult, from an amateur to a professional, or the creation or expansion of a business.

How is growing pains pronounced?

[ groh-ing peynz ]

Where does growing pains come from?

Scientifically speaking, growing pains are a musculoskeletal condition that results in quasirheumatic pains in the limbs. Translation? It’s when you’re arms and legs ache when you’re getting bigger.

These growing pains were described in 1823 by French physician Marcel Duchamp, who came up with it based on his observation that these pains tended to occur during a period of dramatic growth in a child. While growing pains are in fact usually experienced by young children, Duchamp’s growth-based explanation has been disproven.

No one really knows exactly what causes growing pains, but according to pediatrician Joshua Burns of the University of Sydney in 2016, recent research suggests that they may be caused by “altered pain threshold, decreased bone strength, excess flexibility known as joint hypermobility, greater body weight, parental history of arthritis or family history of growing pains.”

While the cause of growing pains remains a mystery, the term has not only stuck, but also, er, grown to take on a metaphorical sense that refers to struggles found in a period of growth in any part of life.

The term has often appeared in popular culture, such as in the late 1980s–90s ABC sitcom Growing Pains, which centered around the trials and tribulations of the Seaver family and their life on Long Island, New York. The show ran for an impressive seven seasons and helped launch the career of Leonardo DiCaprio.

More recently, the term was used by Canadian singer-songwriter Alessia Cara in her 2018 single titled—yep, you guessed it—“Growing Pains.” In an interview with Rolling Stone’s Brittany Spanos that year, Cara said the song was inspired by the “huge growing pain” she’s experienced in finding herself amid her newfound success in the music industry.

How is growing pains used in real life?

Outside of some parents explaining to their children that their aches are growing pains, metaphorical use of growing pains—for the struggles or challenges of someone of something coming of age—can be found in a wide variety of areas online, print, and good, old-fashioned everyday speech.

More examples of growing pains:

“Alison van Diggelen, herself an early adopter, explores the growing pains of building an electric car charging network and the fledgling new industry rising up to meet the challenge.”
—KQED, Law.com, November 2012

“If you’re going through the mud, you’re learning something crucial. You are improving. You are becoming someone different. Hallelujah for that. Hallelujah for the thought of becoming better versions of ourselves in the midst of daily growing pains.”
—@hannahbrencher, July 2018


This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

How to use growing pains in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for growing pains

growing pains

pl n
pains in muscles or joints sometimes experienced by children during a period of unusually rapid growth
difficulties besetting a new enterprise in its early stages
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Medical definitions for growing pains

growing pains
[ grōĭng ]

Pains in the limbs and joints of children or adolescents, frequently occurring at night and often attributed to rapid growth but arising from various unrelated causes.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Other Idioms and Phrases with growing pains

growing pains

Problems that arise in beginning or enlarging an enterprise, as in The company is undergoing growing pains but should be viable by next year. This expression, which dates from the late 1800s, originally referred to the joint and limb aches experienced by youngsters who are growing rapidly. By about 1900 it was being used figuratively.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.