Knee problems are generally associated with the challenges of old age or with adults. When a child complains about his or her hurting knee, we generally assume that the child has hurt their knee in a fall while playing or jumping, and that the pain will pass away in a few days.
However, as you will read in this article, there are at least 8 serious causes of knee pain in children. As children grow, their body muscles, bones, and ligaments also grow in tandem, which is a natural process. However, in certain instances, all the parts of their body do not grow at the same rate, which can lead to growing pains that are generally felt in the leg or knee region.
Causes of Knee Pain in Children
Listed below are some of the common causes of knee pain observed in children:
1. Bacterial Infection
Bacterial infection in the knee region can cause pain and swelling, thus preventing the child from walking. If you observe any inflammation in or around the knee, the chances are there is a pus formation within the knee joints.
If the knee pain or swelling lasts for more than a day, it is advisable to consult a doctor.
2. Juvenile Arthritis
Juvenile arthritis can occur in children from the age of 6 months up to 16 years. Warm or reddened knee joints along with swelling around the joints are an indication of juvenile arthritis. In teenage or pre-teenage children athletes, this cause of knee pain usually occurs in the anterior (or front) part of the knee. It is recommended to consult a doctor if you observe signs of this condition.
3. Osgood-Schlatter Disease
This common knee disease usually occurs in children reaching puberty or children in athletics or sports. This disease causes a knee inflammation in the area where the shin bone attaches to the knee cap.
Along with medicines, proper rest is necessary for the child to recover from this knee disease.
4. Jumper’s Knee
This is another knee condition that affects the patellar tendon (the tendon that enables the knee to straighten up following jumping or squatting). Excessive jumping or squatting in active children can put severe pressure on the patellar tendon, thus causing injuries to the tendon fibres. Common symptoms of Jumper’s knee are swelling or pain right below the knee cap.
Children affected by this condition are advised to stop all sporting or jumping activities until the swelling is reduced.
5. Soft Tissue Knee Injuries
Common in physically-active children, soft tissue knee injuries are caused by excessive use or pressure on the knee muscles, ligaments, and tendons. The RICE method that comprises rest, ice packs, compression (using a bandage) and elevation can speed up the healing of these injuries.
6. Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome
Patellofemoral pain syndrome, also known as PFS or runner’s knee, occurs in the anterior part of the knee. Common among young teenagers and athletes, PFS is caused by excess weight pressure on the knee or kneecap displacement. Children with PFS experience knee pain when they perform squatting, jumping, or bending of the knee. The RICE method is useful for treating this condition as well. Consult a doctor if the pain persists or becomes severe.
7. Quadricep’s Tendinitis
Quadricep’s tendinitis is a result of injury or strain caused to the quadriceps muscles in the knee. This condition is common in young teenagers who are involved in sports such as football or athletics or activities which involve a lot of running. Along with swelling and weakness, the affected child can experience pain in the lower thigh area, just above the patella.
Anti-inflammatory medicines, along with adequate rest, can help the child recover from this knee condition.
This is among the mildest forms of knee pain in children. Tumours are formed around the knee area and are usually the only symptom. You may need to diagnose this knee condition by looking for any abnormal growth of tissues. It is recommended to consult the doctor for the further plan of action.
Symptoms of Knee Pain in Kids
For almost 2 out of every 5 kids, knee pain usually occurs due to growing pains, particularly during spurts in growth in pre-teen children. Growing pain usually results in aches in their legs, calves, thighs, and the back of their knees. Other common aches may be simply due to the amount of running, playing, and jumping that most children are involved in. If there is a medical history of restless leg syndrome (uncomfortable sensations in the legs) in your family, chances are that your child may also have this condition.
If your child experiences more severe symptoms, it could be because they have a more serious knee condition than simply growing pains or aches. Here are some symptoms to watch out or which may indicate a bigger issue:
- Your child experiences pain in the thigh, calves, or posterior part of their knees, through the entire day, or even in the next morning
- Severe swelling or inflammation in or around the knee joints
- Your child experiences severe pain for a long time after sustaining a physical injury
- Your child displays constant tiredness or weakness
- Constant limping or the use of one particular leg for activities
- Lasting signs of knee pain such as unusual rashes around the knee region
- Your child has high fever, which can be an indication of Juvenile arthritis
- Warm or severely reddened knee joints
- Your child is unable to fully move the knee, or the knee is unable to support your child’s weight
- Your child is experiencing constant locking of the knee, due to which your child is unable to move
If you find your child complaining of knee pain on a daily basis, or showing any of the above symptoms, it is probably time to consult your doctor or a knee specialist.
According to Dr. Mark Halstead, a sports medicine specialist at the St. Louis Children’s Hospitals, parents should not neglect all the knee pain conditions in their children as simply growing pain. While growing pain is common in children aged 5-6 years, a teen or pre-teen can suffer from serious knee injuries, particularly if the child is active in physical sports.
According to Dr. Halstead, children who are involved in active sports like running and football or in multiple sports are more susceptible to knee injuries. Stretching your knees before play or keeping ice on the knees after play can be useful techniques in preventing knee injuries.
Following a severe knee injury, you may observe the following in your child:
- Your child is unable to walk or bear his or her weight on the knees.
- Your child’s knee looks deformed.
- Your child experiences extreme pain.
- There is high swelling and numbness near the knee region.
The immediate treatment should be to control the swelling around the knee, through the use of the RICE method discussed earlier. This comprises Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation, as described below:
1. Rest the Knee
This includes resting your child and protecting the affected knee area.
2. Ice the Knee Region
This involves applying a cold pack of ice on the affected area to minimize the swelling. Keep applying the ice till the swelling subsides. Once the swelling is gone, apply heat to the same area. It is important to use a towel on the ice or heat pack and not apply them directly on the skin.
3. Compress the Knee with a Tight Wrap or Elastic Sleeve
Wrapping the swollen area with an elastic bandage can decrease the swelling. Do not apply the compression too tightly as this can cause more swelling.
4. Elevate the Knee
Use a pillow or soft cushion to elevate the affected knee, while you are applying the ice or using compression.
If there is no swelling in your child’s knee, you can also gently massage the knee region to alleviate the pain.
If your child is experiencing massive pain, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) or medication can be used to provide pain relief and to reduce swelling. Drugs such as Ibuprofen, Aspirin, and Naproxen can be consumed for immediate pain relief. However, such medication is not recommended for frequent or long-term use as there may be side effects. Ensure that you consult with your doctor before administering any of these drugs to your child.
Tips to Prevent Knee Problem in Kids
Strengthening the knee muscles and bones through exercise or physical therapy is one way to prevent knee problems in your children.
Listed below are additional tips for preventing knee injuries in children:
- If your child is over-weight, helping them to lose weight can reduce the body pressure on their knees and prevent any injuries.
- For children who are active in physical sports, ensure that they perform appropriate warm-up exercises such as Hamstring stretch and Quadriceps stretch before and after the game. This can be followed by relaxing exercises after the workout.
- Daily exercises that can strengthen the knee muscles and joints are a must for preventing knee pain. Aerobic exercises for children can also help build stronger leg muscles.
- Learning to bend the knees during jumping or any other physical activity can be very helpful.
- For children in athletics, use of the right sports shoes that can provide support to the knee can be useful.
- Avoid physical activities such as running up (or down) the hill or deep knee bends as these activities put severe pressure on the knees.
- Regular training around the year can improve the overall fitness of your child and prevent common injuries.
In addition to the regular medication and therapy, you can try a few herbal remedies at home to ease the knee pain in your child. Listed below are some of the home remedies that you can use:
1. Applying a Cold Compress
Applying a cold compress using ice cubes or a pack of frozen peas on the affected knee area works in reducing knee pains and swellings. This is because the cold constricts the blood vessels, thus reducing the blood flow to the affected area.
2. Willow Bark
This common herb is regularly used in the treatment of knee pain particularly for inflammation and fever. It is also known to have provided knee relief to patients suffering from arthritis.
3. Ginger Extracts
This remedy has also proven to be effective for pain relief for patients with arthritis. Ginger contains natural anti-inflammatory compounds which reduce swelling.
Consuming ginger tea 2-3 times each day is recommended until the knee pain subsides. Alternatively, you can massage the affected part with ginger oil 2-3 times each day for pain relief. Ginger extracts also work well when consumed along with any prescription drug for knee pain.
4. Apple Cider Vinegar
This vinegar is known to have alkalizing properties that are useful in alleviating knee pains. Drinking 1-2 glasses of warm water mixed with apple cider vinegar can remove the toxins around the knee region, thus bringing relief. It can also improve the flexibility of the knee movements by restoring the lubricants around the knee.
5. Cayenne Pepper
This natural herb contains Capsaicin, which is a natural reliever of pain. The natural pain-relieving properties of Capsaicin provide a warm sensation to the affected knee, thus reducing the sensation of pain.
Recommended for anterior knee problems, you can make a paste of cayenne pepper powder and olive oil and apply it on the affected knee area each day. Alternatively, you can mix cayenne pepper with apple cider vinegar and apply the liquid on the affected area. You can also use a variety of ointments or gels containing cayenne pepper for immediate pain relief.
6. Mustard Oil
Massaging the knee with mustard oil can reduce pain and inflammation, as well as improve the blood circulation in that part.
Turmeric is also an effective home remedy for the treatment of knee pain. Turmeric contains the Curcumin chemical, which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, both of which are good for pain relief.
Drinking a glass of hot water mixed with ginger and turmeric can help in reducing knee pain.
Lemon contains citric acid, which acts as a solvent for Uric acid crystals, one of the primary causes of arthritis. Lemon is thus an effective home remedy for reducing knee pain.
Wrap a cotton cloth with 1-2 pieces of cut lemon, dip the cloth in sesame oil, and place the cloth on the affected part of the knee for 5-10 minutes. Alternatively, drinking a glass of warm lemon water early in the morning is also beneficial.
9. Other Herbal Ingredients
Other herbal ingredients such as Epsom salt, Fenugreek, and Eucalyptus oil are also known to be effective in relieving knee pain or injuries.
When Should You Call the Doctor?
Children mostly hurt their knee during a fall while playing or when they bump their knee against a hard object. In such cases, most of the home remedies, or in certain cases, pain-killing medication or pain-relieving ointments or sprays, should be sufficient.
However, it is recommended to schedule a doctor’s visit if the knee pain was caused by immense force and is followed by:
- Severe swelling around the knee
- Severe redness around the knee region
- Significant pain
- Tenderness or warmth around the knee joint
- A popping sound at the time of the knee injury
It is also advisable to call the doctor if a knee pain was caused by a minor incident but leads to the following:
- Lasts for a long duration, particularly for the entire day
- The child is limping or shows weakness in the knees
- The child is unable to bear his or her weight
- Interferes with the child’s sleep patterns
- The pain is inhibiting the child’s normal activities
Knee pain is not just an irritant for an active child, but can also be an indicator or precursor of long-term problems if not addressed in time. If your child complains of severe or frequent knee pain, it is advisable to see a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.