DEAR DR. BLONZ: Our soccer-playing son has grown about four inches during this past year (he is now 12 years old), which has been fantastic. My concern relates to periods of muscular pain and pain on the soles of his feet while he plays. It is annoying, slowing him down a bit, but never to the point that he needs to stop. The coach is aware of the situation and encourages him to stretch and warm up before any practice or game. His diet is a concern as he does not make great food choices. What might you suggest? -- F.T., Hayward, California
DEAR F.T.: Rapidly growing adolescents can experience minor aches and pains as their bodies transition from "child" to "adult." It is good that his coach is aware of the issue, but you should also discuss your concerns with your family physician. It may be that the discomfort is nothing more than muscles and tendons that have become too snug for the more rapidly growing long bones. These types of "growing pains" are most often experienced at night, as that is when most growing takes place, but they can take place during the daytime as well, especially during and after the stress of his demanding exercise.
You mention the pain in your son's feet. Each foot contains 26 separate bones (one-eighth of the number in our entire skeleton), and there are a number of tendons that pass around the ankle to control the movements of the foot. It is possible that his pain could be a byproduct of his rapid growth. Stretching before a workout plus periods of rest during the game may be of help. Keep in mind, though, that whenever there is recurrent pain during growth involving the knees and legs, it is reasonable to have it checked by a physician. For foot pain, there is also the possibility of visiting a podiatrist. And let's not forget the obvious: A child's rapidly growing body can run through clothes and shoes quickly, so make sure that your son's shoes -- especially those soccer cleats -- are always fitting correctly.
As for your nutrition concerns, any period of rapid growth involves the creation of new body tissue, and that means a need for an ample supply of healthful foods to supply the raw materials to keep the process fueled and on an even keel. Good eating habits are very important, but they are often given short shrift during adolescence. At times, we, as parents, might wonder how our children are able to grow and remain in good health given what we see them eat.
There are limits to what a parent can accomplish during their child’s adolescence. Playing a parental-power card may backfire, as these are the very years during which children may have that urge to establish their independence. What you have been doing over the years can hold great sway, so set a good example and forgo any “do what I say, not what I do” approach. Adolescents take pride in seeing their bodies change and mature. You can foster healthful habits through tactful reminders that what they eat and how they take care of their body will help determine who stares back at them in the mirror. Go to b.link/teenagers50 for more on teenager nutrition from the National Institutes of Health.
Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.