If your kid is a sports nut, you probably worry about injuries on a regular basis. You cringe every time your daughter goes for a header on the soccer field and you shield your eyes when your son gets a tackle on the gridiron.
But there’s one condition you’ve probably never even heard of that most often affects adolescents going through growth spurts during puberty. It’s Osgood-Schlatter disease (OSD) and for kids and teenagers like yours who play sports, it’s one of the most common causes of knee pain.
OSD is an injury that affects the knee area and it happens from overuse. Repeated physical stress and movement leads to inflammation in the specific point where your shinbone (tibia) meets the tendon from your kneecap (patella).
a painful lump under the kneecap, and it usually happens to kids who play sports or do activities that involve running, jumping, and changing direction quickly. That means kids who play basketball or soccer or participate in figure skating or ballet may be more likely to get it.
Who Gets It?
OSD is more common in boys than in girls, but it affects both sexes. It’s happening in girls more frequently now as more girls are playing different kinds of sports.
Since boys and girls go through puberty at different ages, they can develop OSD at different times. It usually happens to boys around age 13 or 14, and in girls much younger; usually around 11 or 12.
It can affect one or both knees, and it happens during puberty because of growth spurts. These usually last about 2 years during adolescence. This is when girls and boys gain a lot of height very quickly.
The symptoms of OSD can look different in different people. Some might get a severe case and feel constant pain, and others might have a more mild case and only feel pain when they do certain activities.
Generally, the symptoms include:
- Pain, tenderness, or swelling just below the kneecap
- Pain that worsens while playing sports, running, jumping, or changing direction quickly
- Limping after doing a sport or activity
- In some cases, a bony lump under the kneecap
Sports and activities like basketball and ballet that require movements like running, jumping, and bending at the knee cause the muscles in your thighs (quadriceps) to pull on the tendon connecting your shinbone and kneecap. Over time, this can force the tendon to separate slightly from the shinbone. This is what causes the symptoms of OSD.
Some kids with OSD get a bony lump where the tendon and shinbone are separating. This is because their bodies are trying to grow new bone to close the gap that’s developed.
Your child’s doctor will do a physical exam and look for signs of swelling, redness, pain, and tenderness. They may also order X-rays to take a closer look at the bones and the area where the tendon and shinbone attach.
Usually, kids with OSD don’t need any specific treatments. The condition usually gets better on its own over time. The symptoms tend to go away once their bones stop growing.
Physical therapy can sometimes help the pain, too. Certain exercises can help stretch the quadriceps and hamstring muscles in the thighs. This may ease some of the tension on the spot where the tendon and shinbone attach. Other exercises that strengthen the quadriceps can help, too, since they can stabilize the knee joint.
There are also many things your child can do at home to help relieve the symptoms:
- Rest. Running, jumping, bending, and kneeling can aggravate OSD, so taking time off from activities that involve those movements can help prevent things from getting worse.
- Ice. Cold applied to the area can help reduce pain and swelling.
- Cross-training. If your child has to take time off from an activity or sport of choice, trying something different that’s low-impact, like swimming or cycling, may be a good alternative.
- Stretching . Doing specific exercises to stretch the quadriceps can help ease some of the tension and pain.
- Protection. If your child is going to continue playing sports, wearing a protective pad over the injury can keep it safe from more damage.
- Stabilization with a strap. Using a special strap called a patellar tendon strap can anchor the tendon in place during activities. It fits around the leg under the kneecap and can help spread out some of the force that’s on the shinbone.