Knee pain in kids: what’s the cause & is it the same in adults?

Knee pain in kids: what’s the cause & is it the same in adults?


Knee pain in kids, specifically Osgood Schlatter Disease, is a problem that we regularly treat (and very well!) here at Sole Motion Podiatry. Regardless of your age, knee pain or injury is something that can turn your day to day life upside down and make even the simplest tasks frustrating and difficult. Depending on your age, however, the cause of knee pain can be very different, even if the symptoms are very similar and you’ve suffered from a particular condition before.

Because different causes of knee pain require varying treatment approaches to get the best results, we thought we’d fill you in on the main cause of knee pain that we treat in kids – Osgood Schlatter Disease – and how this differs in adults.

Kids Knee Pain: Osgood Schlatter Disease

Don’t worry – before you panic, Osgood Schlatter isn’t so much a ‘disease’ as it is a temporary condition in growing children. It’s caused by irritation to the growth plate at the knee which produces painful symptoms. Here are the facts on Osgood Schlatter and its cause:

  • The growth plate at the knee that is irritated in Osgood Schlatter is located at the top of the tibia (shin bone)
  • The patellar tendon inserts into the top of the tibia (shin bone) close to the growth plate
  • Growth plates are present on all growing bones and are how bones lengthen and grow. Once you reach full maturity, growth plates turn to solid bone.
  • Growth plates aren’t as strong as solid bone, meaning you’re vulnerable to injury/irritation from pressure and tension on the area of a growth plate
  • The patella tendon connects the muscles at the front of the thigh (quadriceps) to the tibia and works to straighten the knee
  • Too much tension from the patellar tendon onto the shin bone can irritate the growth plate and begin the onset of painful symptoms
  • The tension may have multiple causes, but is largely associated with tightness in patella tendon/quadriceps, paired with periods of rapid bone growth that strain the muscles/tendons further
  • Osgood Schlatters tends to affect active kids during periods of growth, usually between the ages of 8-16 years

The bad news is the symptoms, which can include:

  • Pain, just below and in front of the knee
  • Exacerbation of pain by physical activity (especially running, jumping and bending the knee)
  • Swelling and aching

The good news is that despite the idea that growing pains must be ‘waited out’, this pain is very treatable. If the pain is caused by an irritated growth plate and the irritation is coming from the patellar tendon, then by reducing the tension on the patellar tendon the pain and symptoms will settle and you’ll be able to enjoy the things you love free from knee pain! It may seem simple, but it’s just basic cause-and-effect and we’ve been able to help hundreds of kids get back to their favourite sports and activities.

So, what about Osgood Schlatter knee pain in adults?

If you’ve previously experienced Osgood Schlatter pain as a child, then there is a chance you may experience knee pain to a lesser degree as an adult. However, because you don’t have growth plates as an adult, the cause is different.

As opposed to irritation to the growth plates, in adults this continued pain is typically from bony fragments (or ‘ossicles’) left in the knee/tendon while it was being replaced by solid bone. The fragments may cause some minor pain on bending the knee and sporting activities, as well as some pain on kneeling and the presence of a more marked bump around the top of the shin bone. It also means a restriction in full knee function for up to 50% of those affected.

The good news is that by removing the ossicle or fragment, many studies have shown a 95% success rate and relief of painful symptoms in adults. Physical therapy and bracing can also help relieve symptoms, so if you suspect your adolescent knee pain has progressed into adulthood, come in and have a chat with our Podiatry team!

Don’t forget other causes of adult & kids knee pain – Patellar Tendinopathy

Don’t forget that your cause of knee pain as an adult may have nothing to do with whether you have or haven’t suffered from adolescent knee pain. Patellar tendinopathy (or tendonitis) is a relatively common cause of knee pain in adults, caused by damage, injury or strain to the patellar tendon itself. The symptoms are quite similar to the Osgood Schlatter’s, with the main difference being that the pain tends to be present a little higher around the knee as opposed to just below the knee at the growth plate.

The best way to find out what’s going on and ensure you have the right treatment is to come in and get your knees checked! Our team here at Sole Motion Podiatry specialise in sports medicine and helping our patients to get out of pain and back at full strength and function. For any questions or to book an appointment, you can give us a call on 1300-FX-FEET or book online.

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