Children experience aches and pains as they grow up. Whether they're from running around the playground or playing sports, aches usually aren't a cause for serious concern.

Children experience aches and pains as they grow up. Whether they're from running around the playground or playing sports, aches usually aren't a cause for serious concern.

Kids also may experience growing pains -- their legs may ache right before bedtime -- but the pain is usually gone by morning.

Aches and pains generally can be treated with an over-the-counter medicine like acetaminophen or ibuprofen (aspirin should not be given to kids because it can cause a serious illness called Reye syndrome). Discomfort also can be treated with a heating pad, stretches and massages. But if a child is complaining of severe pain that doesn't go away and the site of the pain is swollen, it could be a sign of a rare, more serious condition called osteosarcoma.

Osteosarcoma is a common type of bone cancer. It tends to occur more often in children and young adults, usually between the ages of 10 and 30, and is rare before the age of 10. Osteosarcoma sometimes appears during growth spurts and usually occurs on long bones, such as arms, legs, or around joints. The most common symptoms of osteosarcoma are severe pain and swelling, without a previous injury, that goes on for an extended period of time. The pain doesn't respond well to medication and it may be accompanied by a lump. In some cases, the tumor can spread to the lungs and other bones.

A physician will be able to notice anything suspicious through an X-ray or an MRI, then ultimately diagnose the cancer through a biopsy. Treatment for osteosarcoma includes chemotherapy, along with surgery to remove the tumor. A doctor may perform two types of surgery. The first is limb-salvage surgery, where the bone with cancer is removed and the gap is filled with a bone graft or a metal rod. The second is amputation. In some cases, the doctor may have to remove the limb to fight the cancer.

It's important to remember that osteosarcoma is rare, and most aches and pains are not cancer. The active lives of children often lead to different aches that eventually go away. However, if a child is having severe pains with swelling that are affecting his or her lifestyle, the child should see a doctor to make sure it's not a more serious condition.


Nicholas D. Yeager M.D. is an assistant hematologist/oncologist at Nationwide Children's Hospital. He is co-director of the Orth-Oncology Program and is also the program director for the Hitchcock-Wilson Fellowship in pediatric hematology/oncology at Nationwide Children's Hospital.