Knee Pain in Children

Updated July 19, 2017

Knee pains are common in children and adolescents. There are many causes---diseases, disorders and injuries---and cooralating treatments. Some problems require nothing more than rest and over-the-counter pain medications, while others often need surgical intervention. With a proper diagnosis and treatment plan, children should be able to return to normal activities, free of pain.

Diseases and Disorders Causing Knee Pain

According to Children's Memorial Hospital of Chicago, ligamentous laxity (loose ligaments) affects up to 15 per cent of children. It can cause their knee joints to move beyond a normal range of motion, resulting in dislocated knees, sprains and ligament tears. Avoiding high-impact activities can help minimise potential injuries.

Osgood-Schlatter Disease, common in active adolescents, presents itself with a tender bump just below the knee. The pain increases with certain activities or when touched directly. While there is no treatment, sufferers typically outgrow the condition in one to two years. In the meantime, they can limit pain by wrapping the knee or using a knee pad during sports and related activities.

Osteochondritis dissecans, in which a bone fragment forms within the knee, can cause severe knee pain, swelling, a locking of the knee joint or the knee to give way. It often requires surgery to repair.

Parapatellar knee pain syndrome causes vague pain in both kneecaps and is exacerbated by certain activities such as running, jumping, lifting weights and climbing stairs. It's treated with rest, anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen, and strengthening exercises.

Patellar dislocation, more common in girls, causes the kneecap to become dislocated, or slip out of place. Treatment includes lengthy immobilisation of the knee followed by strengthening exercises.

Injuries Causing Knee Pain

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is an injury caused by an awkward twisting of the knee---often noticeable by a loud "pop"---that most often occurs during sports activities. It requires medical evaluation and often surgery to correct it.

Collateral ligament injuries, mainly from soccer and football, typically cause pain, bruising and swelling. After a diagnosis by a medical professional, RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) are recommended.

A dislocated knee can occur when three or more ligaments are damaged. It requires immediate medical evaluation and possibly surgical intervention.

Fractures in the bones around the knee can result from a direct impact. Medical evaluation and X-rays are necessary for proper diagnosis.

Growing Pains

Knee pain can also be caused by "growing pains," typically occurring at night. Despite their name, growing pains are linked to particularly active days rather than growth, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). While more common in the legs, growing pains can present themselves around the knees. The pain usually subsides with rubbing, a heating pad and/or over-the-counter pain relievers (ibuprofen or acetaminophen).

Other Causes

The AAP advises that knee pain can be caused by Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis or by referred pain from the hip or spine. Additionally, knee pain can be caused by certain types of bone cancer, such as osteogenic sarcoma (also known as osteogenic sarcoma), the most common form of bone cancer, and chondrosarcoma, a cancer which develops in the cartilage, including that of the knee.


The AAP advises parents that if a child's knee is red or swollen, or if the injury is interfering with his activities, parents should seek medical guidance.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Leslie Wilson has been a writer and editor since 1995, including eight years with an alumni magazine. Since 2006, she has been the editor of a regional parenting publication. She earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design.