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Knee Pain In Teens: Causes, Treatment, And When To Worry

Knee Pain In Teens

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Knee pain is common among teens who are physically active and participate in sports. This is often felt at the center of the knee, under the patella (knee cap), and called adolescent anterior knee pain. Athletic teenagers have an increased risk of anterior knee pain.

Teenagers could develop knee pain due to overuse or a training routine without proper muscle strengthening or stretching exercises. Abnormalities or diseases of knee joints are rare in teenagers.

Read this post to know about the causes, complications, treatment, and prevention of knee pain in teens.

Symptoms And Signs Of Teenage Knee Pain

The location of the pain may vary depending on the underlying cause. Some children may have anterior knee pain, while others may have posterior knee pain. The following signs and symptoms can be associated with knee pain in most teens (1).

  • Pain intensity increases over time
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Warmness or fever
  • Pain felt during knee flexion
  • Popping sounds heard from the knee during movements
  • Problems in weight-bearing on leg
  • Inability to keep knees fully flexed or extended

Severe knee pain and other symptoms require pediatric consultation. Doctors may help to identify the cause of pain and treat it.

Is Knee Pain In Teens Common?

Anterior knee pain due to overuse and sports are common among teens. They may also commonly experience growing pains in the knee. It is difficult to rate the exact incidence of knee pain since the definition of knee pain may vary in each cause.

How Long Does Knee Pain In Teens Last?

There is no specific duration for knee pain in teens. It may vary depending on the severity and type of underlying conditions. Knee pain due to overuse may relieve immediately with rest. Knee pain due to knee injuries, such as ligament tear, may even continue after treatment until the injury heals.

Growing pains in the knee are experienced during growth spurts in teenagers. This type of pain may resolve once the growth is completed.

Causes Of Knee Pain

The common causes of knee pain in teenagers may include the following conditions (2).

  1. Alignment problems may increase the pressure on the knee cap during movements.
  1. Overuse and inflexible muscles may cause knee pain.
  1. Tendinitis is the irritation and inflammation of the tendons.
  1. Apophysitis is a stress injury or inflammation around the bone growth plates in children and teens.
  1. Growth-related problems, such as Osgood-Schlatter disease, cause pain in the growth area. This can be due to the fast growth of bone that makes the muscles stretched. This can be localized and tender to touch.
  1. Abnormal hip rotation may also lead to knee pain due to displacement of the knee cap.
  1. Patellar tendonitis is the inflammation of patellar tendons.
  1. Quadriceps tendonitis is the inflation of the quadriceps tendon.
  1. Patellofemoral stress syndrome causes anterior knee pain due to abnormal movement or increased pressure between the patella and femur (thighbone).
  1. Growing pains may occur when there are growth spurts in teens and are usually felt at night.
  1. Sports injuries usually occur from sports involving running and jumping.
  1. Other knee injuries, such as ACL injury, could cause pain due to a tear of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

Although teens may have growth spurts, knee pain in teens is not always growing pains. Sometimes, this may be over-labeled as a growing pain, and the underlying reasons may stay unresolved.

Risk Factors For Knee Pain

The following factors may increase the risk for knee pain in teens (3).

  • Overweight and obesity may increase strain on knee joints
  • Lack of muscle strength and flexibility may make the knee joint unstable during motion
  • Certain sports involving repeated jumps, such as alpine skiing and basketball, may increase chances of knee pain
  • History of knee injury can increase the risk of knee pain and further knee injuries

Complications Associated With Knee Pain

Knee pain due to growth or overuse may not cause severe complications in most teens. Knee injuries have an increased risk of recurrence, and the pain may worsen if left unmanaged. Medical conditions, such as osteoarthritis in obese teens, may cause increased pain.

If left untreated, teens with musculoskeletal disorders may also have an increased risk for worsening knee pain over time.

Prevention Of Knee Pain In Teens

All cases of knee pain cannot be prevented. The following tips may help to reduce the risk of knee pain in some teens (4).

  • Weight loss may help to reduce knee pain in obese teens. Activities such as swimming and aerobics can be tried for weight loss in the initial stages since they have a low impact on the knees.
  • Condition the muscles for sports activities. This may increase the flexibility and strength of the muscles.
  • Practice sports with perfect techniques. A trainer or coach can help the teen learn movement patterns and sports techniques that minimize knee injury risk.
  • Avoid overtraining to prevent overuse injuries.
  • Stretching before exercise and using an ice pack after exercises may help to reduce knee pain.

Limiting high-impact activities may reduce pain in some children. Seek medical care in case of chronic knee pain since early interventions may prevent the worsening of underlying causes.

When To See A Doctor?

It is not ideal to use pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, to mask the pain and participate in sports. This may worsen the injuries and pain over time. Seek medical care in the following circumstances (5).

  • Knee pain lasting more than two weeks
  • Limping due to pain
  • Unable to do sport activities
  • Pain while playing sports
  • Performance is affected by the pain
  • Knee injuries

Never force your teen to participate in sports with knee pain. All cases of knee pain are not related to growth. An orthopedic doctor should evaluate the teen to identify the exact cause. 

Diagnosis Of Knee Pain

Doctors may examine the knee movement and local signs of inflammation during physical examination. The following imaging tests are often ordered to identify the cause (3).

  • X-ray imaging of knee joint helps to visualize degenerative joint diseases and fractures.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan may help visualize subtle fractures and gout.
  • Ultrasound imaging of the knee helps to look at the soft tissues around the knee.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be used to visualize soft tissues, such as tendons, ligaments, cartilages, and muscles in the knee.
  • Blood tests may help to identify infection or inflammation markers.
  • Arthrocentesis involves needle aspiration of synovial fluid from the knee joint and its laboratory analysis.

Blood tests, X-rays, and physical examination of knee flexibility, range of motion, and strength may often confirm the diagnosis. Other tests are usually ordered if these examinations are not enough for diagnosis. 

Home Care For Knee Pain

The following self-care measures may help to reduce knee pain in some teens(3).

  • Rest: Reducing knee strain by avoiding high-impact activities may help in recovery.
  • Ice packs: This may help to reduce inflammation and pain. You may use it for less than 20 minutes at a time.
  • Heat pack: This may help to relieve pain in some teens.
  • Compression bandage: A breathable compression bandage may help prevent fluid build-up and provide better stability for the knees.
  • Elevation: Keeping legs on a pillow or using a recliner may reduce swelling.

Treatment For Knee Pain

Treatment options may vary depending on the underlying cause of knee pain. The following treatments are usually prescribed for teens (3).

  • Medications: Pain relievers are often prescribed for teens. Conditions such as gout and rheumatoid arthritis are also treated with medications.
  • Physical therapy: This may help to strengthen the muscles by specific exercises. This may also improve flexibility and balance.
  • Correction of sports techniques: If the knee pain is related to inappropriate sports techniques, your teen may feel better after correcting it.
  • Arch supports: Wedges on one side of the heel may reduce pressure on the knee. This can be useful in the case of osteoarthritis.
  • Knee braces: This may help support and protect the knee.

Some conditions may require direct injection of medication or other substances to the knee joint. Arthroscopic surgeries are often recommended for knee injuries.

Rest is recommended for teens with knee pain before returning to sports activities. Physical therapy and stretching exercise can be included with the training as per the instructions. It is not advised to take pain relievers and continue sports since this may often result in ligament injuries. Teens can continue to participate in sports after the acute pain subsides in a safer and pain-free way.

References:

MomJunction's health articles are written after analyzing various scientific reports and assertions from expert authors and institutions. Our references (citations) consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. 8 Signs Your Child’s Knee Needs To Be Examined; Nationwide Children’s Hospital
2. Knee Pain; Physio.co.uk
3. Anterior Knee Pain; Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
4. Preventing Knee Pain; RUSH University
4. Knee Pain in Kids; St. Louis Children’s Hospital



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