Knee pain in kids and teens can be a result of traumatic knee injuries or repetitive overuse injuries from physical activity, such as competitive sports.
Some of the most common injuries to children and teens that cause knee pain include fractures, dislocations, and sprains and tears of soft tissues like ligaments and tendons. In many cases, injuries involve more than one structure in the knee.
At Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, our pediatric orthopedic and sports medicine specialists are specially trained to recognize the specific signs and symptoms that may be causing your child’s or teen’s knee pain in order to make an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
Some of the common signs and symptoms of knee injuries include:
- A painful “popping” when walking or bending the knee
- Pain on the inside or outside of the knee
- Swelling around the knee
- Weakness of the knee
- Limited motion of the knee
- A feeling like the knee is locking up or getting stuck in place
- Localized or dull pain during activity
- A bump or knot around the knee
When should my kid see a doctor for knee pain?
The knee is the largest joint in the body, and it is made up of many important and complex structures. Injuries to the knee, especially for kids and teens who are still growing, can lead to short-term and long-term damage. If your child is experiencing knee pain, especially if you notice any limping, it is important that he temporarily stop activity and that you schedule an appointment to have your child’s knee evaluated by one of our specialists as soon as possible to help prevent potential additional knee damage.
It’s also important for kids and teens with knee pain and injuries to see an orthopedic or sports medicine specialist specifically trained to treat kids and teens. A pediatric-trained doctor will know how to diagnose and care for kids and teens to help avoid any long-term damage to the knees. The pediatric sports medicine orthopedic surgeons and sports medicine specialists at Children’s are specially trained to diagnose and treat kids from birth to age 21. We help your child recover as quickly as possible so that he can safely return to activities.
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It is very common for children and teens to experience knee pain, especially for those who are playing sports. Commonly injured parts of the knee include the distal thighbone (femur), which is the end portion of the thighbone near the knee; proximal tibia (shinbone), which is the top portion of the tibia bone near the knee; tendons, which attach muscle to bone; and ligaments, which attach bone to bone.
Treatments for a knee injury will vary depending on the type and severity of the injury. Treatments may range anywhere from rest and sports physical therapy to surgery.
Whether your child or teen has suffered a minor sprain or a complete ACL tear, any type of knee swelling is not normal. If your child has knee swelling, knee pain or knee stiffness, take him to a pediatric sports medicine specialist right away for an evaluation.
While your child is waiting to be seen, doctors recommend you start treating him at home using the PRICE method:
- Protection: Keep your child comfortable and sedentary when possible. Remove him from sports practice or games to avoid worsening a possible injury.
- Rest: Keep movement to a minimum.
- Ice: Icing the knee can help with pain and swelling. Try an ice cup massage. Fill a plastic foam cup with water and freeze it. When frozen, peel an inch of the plastic foam off from the bottom of the cup, and apply an ice massage directly to the injured area for five to 10 minutes. This can be repeated every 60 to 90 minutes if needed.
- Compression: Use compression bandages to help improve comfort levels.
- Elevation: Keep your child’s knee elevated above the heart and propped up on something soft.
Through proper training and conditioning, and by following healthy guidelines, the risk of knee injuries can be reduced in kids and teens.
Our pediatric orthopedic and sports medicine specialists, who focus on injury prevention and rehabilitation, have created knee injury prevention exercises so that your child or teen can get back into his active routine as soon—and as safely—as possible.
Prevention treatments our physicians recommend include:
- Participate in sports physical therapy, which can help identify and correct issues that may contribute to the risk of injury. Contributing factors that can be improved include weakness, decreased flexibility and poor core strength.
- Perform injury prevention exercises.
- Participate in strength training.
- Play only one sport (on one team) at a time.
- Start conditioning several weeks before the start of a new sports season to avoid the “too much, too soon” trap.
- Stretch to maintain and improve flexibility, especially during growth spurts.
This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.
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