Knee Pain In Kids: Is It Growing Pains?
We often talk about growing pains at the back of the heels (a.k.a Sever’s disease), but growing pains can also affect the knees. They are painful, frustrating, and leave many kids on the sideline of their favourite sports to “wait out the pain” (whether that takes weeks, months or years) because parents don’t realise that these growing pains are treatable.
As growing pains in the knees have been found to affect up to 21% of athletic kids and 4.5% of non-athletic kids, we thought we’d fill you in on the what’s, how’s and why’s of Osgood Schlatter’s disease - the medical term for growing pains in the knees.
What is Osgood Schlatter’s Disease?
Osgood Schlatter’s is a temporary growth-related condition affecting the knees in growing kids. It usually presents between the ages of 8 and 15, at the time where bones and muscles are growing quickly and may struggle to keep up with one another.
Osgood Schlatter’s causes pain and swelling just below the kneecap (patella), where the growth plate of the tibia is located. Growth plates are vulnerable, cartilaginous areas present in growing bones. It is through growth plates that bones are able to grow, by adding new bone to the area. This process continues until we reach maturity and stop growing, when the growth plates turn into solid bone.
So, what irritates these growth plates in the knees?
It is the strong pull of the quadriceps muscles on our patella tendon that tends to aggravate the growth plate. This is because the patella tendon crosses the knee joint, and attaches to the top of the tibia, right next to the growth plate. When the quads are tight, the strain on the tibia is higher, and the vulnerable growth plate becomes inflamed - and painful. This is why the pain often occurs during sports where the quads are used repetitively and strenuously, such as any running and kicking sports such as soccer.
As we grow, our bones, muscles and tissues all grow and lengthen too - though this may be at an uneven rate during a growth spurt. This is another common cause of Osgood-Schlatters - when the rate of growth of the femur (upper leg bone) exceeds the rate of growth of the quadriceps.
Could the knee pain be caused by a different problem?
Absolutely. There are many other problems that can produce similar symptoms, including damage to the knee ligaments or the articular cartilage, patellar tendonitis, a tibial stress fracture, bursitis, and more. This is why it’s important to obtain an accurate diagnosis, including medical imaging, to confidently confirm Osgood Schlatter’s and rule out other injuries.
While Osgood Schlatter’s will resolve eventually, if other problems are present and left undiagnosed, they may worsen and increase in intensity.
How long do growing pains last?
While some children experience knee pain for a few days, others may struggle with growing pains for years. The good news is that growing pains are treatable and don’t have to be waited out, as is sometimes thought.
How are growing pains treated?
The key is to not only settle the symptoms but treat the cause. This means reducing the abnormal pull on the tibia from the quads and patella tendon. After using rest and ice to reduce the pain if it arises, treatment may include the combination of:
- Custom orthotics (using our advanced Orthema technology) - to keep the legs in a position that places less force from tight muscles onto the tibia
- Footwear - to ensure your child’s shoes are supporting them and not adding additional strain on their lower limbs
- Stretching program - to reduce muscle tightness, instead helping to facilitate healthy growth and development
- Strengthening muscles and ligaments - to help maintain a healthy and strong foot and leg position that reduces strain on vulnerable bones
- Activity modification - to reduce the irritation of your growth plate
While Osgood Schlatter’s is a frustrating, painful and upsetting condition, you don’t need to put up with it or wait months hoping that it will resolve. Our experienced team would love to help get your child get back on the field and doing the things they love as quickly as possible. We’re all about optimising your family’s health - so every member of the family can realise their full potential.