What Knee Pain in Active Adolescents Can Really Mean
Is your child active but struggling with knee pain, in one or both knees? Or does the pain seem to spike after a particularly hard soccer practice or basketball game, accompanied by increased swelling and tenderness around the kneecap? And sometimes, you might even notice an irritated bump below the kneecap also appears, then subsides with rest. Ouch!
While knee pain in active adolescents isn’t uncommon, we also know pain can be incredibly frustrating as both a parent and a young person. After all, your kid just wants to get back to their sport, and you want to see them happy and thriving.
What many parents don’t know is that the root of this frustrating knee pain for many kids is caused by something called Osgood-Schlatter disease. While the name is intimidating, if you suspect your child may have this disease, you don’t need to worry. It is known for being a temporary ailment that is treatable in most cases with conservative care. However, it is important to understand the cause of this disease, and what appropriate care looks like in order for your child to begin their healing process.
What Is Osgood-Schlatter Disease And Who Does It Affect?
Osgood-Schlatter disease typically affects adolescents, ages 10-14— or in other words, at growth spurts during puberty. During a growth spurt, a child’s tendons, muscles, and bones grow at different rates. In fact, kids experience Osgood-Schlatter disease when the bones are lengthening at a rate more rapidly than the connective tissue and muscles, effectively causing strain and pressure on top of the shin bone, thereby leading to pain and swelling in the knee.
In cases of Osgood-Schlatter disease, a small chain reaction is actually happening in the body: a tight thigh muscle causes pulling and pressure on the kneecap and on the anchor to the kneecap– the patellar tendon. Osgood-Schlatter disease occurs when the patellar tendon pulls on the growth plate of the shinbone over and over again.
Some activities use the thigh muscle to knee chain repetitively, particularly those that require frequent jumping or changes in direction, like soccer, volleyball, basketball, and dance. And, if it’s overused, the body is forced to absorb more and more stress through the area. When it is continually overworked, inflammation sets in, and pain is usually most noticed below the kneecap— in that area where the patellar tendon attaches itself to the shin bone. This connection to the shin bone also happens to be connected to a growth plate. Sometimes, the swelling in the area produces a small bump at this attachment point.
Treatment For Osgood-Schlatter Disease
The good news is that Osgood-Schlatter disease is a temporary nuisance in an adolescent’s life, and tends to respond well to conservative care. Plus, once your child surpasses a certain age range (when they stop growing), these symptoms typically disappear for good.
If your child is experiencing Osgood-Schlatter knee pain, these are some of the most common successful treatments:
It’s basic, but it works! Try having your child take a break from the offending activity for a bit. More movement will only cause more irritation and make matters worse before they get better.
Recovering from Osgood-Schlatter disease is about controlling the strain and inflammation in the area below the knee. Try applying ice packs to the affected area in 15-minute increments, making sure to cover the skin first with a towel for protection against any ice burn. You can also try an ice massage, or gentle pressure through the area while icing, effectively deepening the impact of ice therapy.
Once the initial swelling and most bothersome pain subside, some stretching of the thigh can help to relieve pressure on the attachments within the knee area. The strain on the knee can be due in large part to an excessively tight thigh muscle. So, if it’s possible to loosen up this muscle through some gentle stretching exercises, it’s a worthy endeavor. You can start with a simple standing quad stretch.
Other Therapies To Consider
Some other treatments that have helped others are soft-tissue focused-therapies on the thigh area, like ART (Active Release Therapy) or Graston, a technique that uses metal tools to break up tissue and increase blood flow to a particular area. These therapies focus on releasing tension in the thigh muscle to provide relief from the painful build-up of pressure.
Osgood-Schlatter Disease Look-Alikes
It should be noted that in order to appropriately treat any ailment, it’s important to get the basics right, starting with the diagnosis. The truth is that there are several other conditions that can mimic some of the symptoms of Osgood-Schlatter. This is why seeking out and working with a medical professional is so important. They will be able to perform certain differentiating tests to determine what the root of the problem is and give a proper diagnosis– from Osgood-Schlatter or something else entirely.
Beware of some of the most common conditions that mimic aspects of Osgood-Schlatter: stress fractures, tendonitis in the knee, bursitis in the knee, and Sinding-Larson-Johansson syndrome.
As you can imagine, each of these conditions has its own set of protocols for healing, which again is why it’s imperative to seek out a professional diagnosis to set you on the right path to rehabilitation.
How Chiropractic Can Help Treat Osgood-Schlatter Disease
As you seek to provide the best treatment options for your child, consider chiropractic care as a part of the healing process. An important facet of the healing for Osgood-Schlatter disease in particular is the reduction of inflammation and tension– and consistent chiropractic care can help assist in that process. Through the use of gentle adjustments of both the spine and extremities, a chiropractor can help to correct misalignments that can cause increased pressure and inflammation in the body as a whole, and further aggravate the limbs when left untreated.
Perhaps most importantly, a chiropractor will perform a full history and exam before any treatment in order to properly diagnose the injury or disease. This aspect is integral in beginning and keeping the healing process on the right track. Plus, the practitioner will be able to curtail treatment to each individual case, ensuring that your child is receiving the best care for their unique needs.
This article is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for in-person advice or care from a medical professional.