Knee Pain In Children: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, And Home Remedies

Knee Pain In Children

Image: iStock

Jump to:

Knee pain is a term that you would not associate with children.

It is something that usually older adults and middle-aged women complain of. So, when a child tells us that his knee hurts, we are more likely to imagine that he injured it during a fall or due to excessive jumping. And we assume that the pain would go away in a day or two.

But, what if it doesn’t? And what if it were a symptom of an underlying knee problem? MomJunction tries to answer questions on knee pain in children, and their causes and treatment methods.

Knee Pain Or Growing Pains?

As children grow, their muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones expand. This is not a painful process. But it can be if all the parts do not grow at the same pace.

Growing pains are usually felt in the thigh, leg, knee, and calf regions. Children and athletes, may experience knee pain from time to time (1), which could be growing pain, a sprain in the knee region, or an underlying medical condition.

Never brush off a child complaining of knee pain. Keep reading to know why.

[ Read: Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis In Children ]

Causes Of Knee Pain In Children

Jumping too much, playing or exercising aggressively for a long time, and straining the knee during a game or other activities can lead to knee pain.

Below we tell you about some common conditions that cause knee pain in kids.

1. Infection in the knee

Bacterial infection in the knee may result in conditions such as osteomyelitis and septic arthritis. These conditions can cause fever, swelling, and pain in the knee, making it difficult for the child to walk. If there is even the slightest inflammation around the knee, there is a chance of pus trapped in the joints.

If the knee pain and swelling last for over a day, take the child to the doctor immediately.

2. Juvenile arthritis

If the child is showing signs such as pain, inflammation, stiffness of joints and fatigue, it could indicate the onset of severe rheumatic diseases such as juvenile arthritis.

Inflammatory arthritis and reactive arthritis, which is more common in adults than children, can also cause a mild pain in the knee or stiffness of joints.

In teen and preteen athletes, knee pain is mostly anterior or in the front of the knee (2).

3. Osgood-Schlatter disease

Osgood-Schlatter disease is the inflammation of the region where the shinbone attaches to the kneecap, causing knee pain in adolescents. This usually occurs during puberty, when the child goes through growth spurts and could be common in children participating in athletics and sports (3).

Proper rest and use of medicines can alleviate the pain and enable the child to get back to his daily activities.

4. Jumper’s knee

The patellar tendon enables you to straighten your knee. Jumper’s knee is a condition where the patellar tendon is damaged and loses the support it gets from other tendons such as the quadriceps tendon. This results in knee weakness and pain when the child stretches his legs (4).

5. Soft tissue knee injuries

A soft tissue injury is the damage of ligaments, tendons, and muscles in a particular region of the body. Soft tissue knee injury refers to the trauma caused due to excessive pressure or overuse of the ligaments, tendons, and muscles (5).

These injuries are common in active children. Knee pain caused by this can be alleviated, and the child can live a pain-free life with the help of immediate diagnosis and treatment.

6. Patellofemoral syndrome (PFS)

Patellofemoral pain syndrome is a pain in the anterior part of the knee. This is a common condition among teenagers and athletes. Overuse, injury, displaced kneecap, or excess weight or pressure applied on the kneecap result in roughening, softening, or wearing down of the cartilage below the kneecap (6).

Kids with Patellofemoral syndrome experience pain when they squat, jump, or bend the knee.

7. Quadricep’s tendinitis

Teenagers who play sports such as soccer and football, which involve a lot of running, tend to overuse their knee structures, resulting in strain or injury of the quadriceps muscle. This leads to pain, swelling, and weakness in the knee. Pain is usually felt in the lower thigh region, above the patella, when the person tries to move the knee (7).

Anti-inflammatory medicines, adequate rest, and physical therapy help in reducing the inflammation and alleviating the pain.

8. Tumors

Tumors formed around the knee region are usually benign but painful, it often being the only symptom (8). This makes diagnosis necessary to confirm abnormal tissue growth. The knee pain is usually mild, although it can worsen in some cases.

[ Read: Growing Pains In Children ]

Symptoms Of Knee Problems In Children

Pain is the primary symptom of knee pain in kids. Along with that, the child may also experience:

  • Throbbing feeling in the knee
  • Pain in the thighs, calves, and posterior part of the knees
  • Tenderness of the patellar tendon
  • Swelling in the knee region
  • Stiff joints
  • Fever (juvenile arthritis)
  • Tightness of hamstring and quadriceps muscles
  • Swelling over the shinbone
  • Warm and reddened joints in case of juvenile arthritis (the symptoms of arthritis also vary depending on the type of arthritis that the child has)

The child may experience one or more of these symptoms, depending on the cause of the knee pain.

When To Call The Doctor

When a child falls, bumps his knee against a hard object, or applies too much pressure on his knees, he or she is likely to have knee pain. Sometimes, the pain could just be a growing pain. In these cases, topical pain-killers (sprays or ointments) or over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers may be used for a day or two.

But it is time to call the doctor if the pain lasts for over two weeks and the child has:

  • pain for a long duration, sometimes throughout the day
  • joint pains
  • pain in the mornings
  • weakness in the knees and is limping

In general, if the pain is affecting the child’s performance, a doctor’s evaluation is imperative.

Diagnosis Of Knee Pain

Once at the doctor, he will ask you questions about the nature of the pain, its longevity, and when the child experiences it the most.

The doctor may inquire about other visible symptoms such as fever and rashes that can indicate juvenile arthritis. Post physical examination, X-rays, MRI, CT Scan, or blood work may also be recommended.

[ Read: Joint Pain In Children ]

Treating Knee Pain In Kids

The treatment of knee pain in children depends on the cause, and the standard treatment methods of knee pain are explained below.

1. Physical therapy and exercises

Physical therapy is one of the most efficient ways to treat knee pain in adults and kids. Knee pain is mostly anterior and caused due to spraining the knee muscles or tendons. Therefore, exercising the knee can help relieve and reduce the chances of its recurrence. Here are some easy exercises you can try at home.

i. Hamstring stretch

The hamstring stretch is a warm up exercise that helps in preventing injuries during a game or workout routine.

  • Sit on the mat with your legs stretched, straight in front of you.
  • Stretch your arms straight, parallel to the legs.
  • Keeping the back straight, bend forward to touch the toes with your hands.
  • Hold for ten seconds and come back to the starting position.
  • Repeat five times.

ii. Quadriceps stretch

Laying down quadriceps stretch is an easier version of the warm-up exercise, which makes it ideal for kids. Younger kids could use your assistance with this one.

  • Let the child lie on his stomach, his legs stretched straight and hands straight to the sides.
  • Pull one foot of the child, bending it at the knee, and bring it closer to the buttocks.
  • Hold it for ten seconds and release.
  • Repeat with the other leg.

iii. Knee to chest exercises

As the name says, these exercises stretch the hamstrings and gluteus, making the child more flexible. This exercise also helps in easier and pain-free joint movements.

  • Lie on your back, with your legs stretched straight.
  • Bend the left knee to fold the leg and bring it up to your chest.
  • Use both your hands to hold the leg in that position for ten seconds.
  • Release the leg back to the starting position and repeat with the other leg.

[ Read: Muscular Dystrophy In Children ]

iv. Straight leg raises

Single leg raises are used for rehabilitation of knee, hip, and thigh injuries. The exercise strengthens the upper thigh and hip muscles. It is one of the first exercises done after a knee replacement surgery.

  • Lie on your back with the legs straight and hands to the sides.
  • Raise one leg slightly from the hip without bending the knee, while keeping the other leg straight.
  • Hold for five to ten seconds and bring the leg down slowly.
  • Repeat with the other leg.

v. Wall slides with pillow or ball

Wall slides are for strengthening the knees, especially during rehabilitation after surgery or an injury.

  • Stand to the wall with your back to it and feet shoulder-length apart.
  • Place a pillow or football between your knees and join them together.
  • While keeping your back to the wall, bend your knees and lower your body slowly until you achieve 60 degrees of knee flexion.
  • Hold for five to ten seconds and return to the starting position slowly.

While these exercises are helpful when you do them properly, it is best to consult a physiotherapist before you get the child to try them.

2. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

Medication is not usually prescribed for knee pain unless it is due to inflammation, and OTC medications such as ibuprofen can be used to reduce the pain. However, make sure you check with the doctor before giving them to the child.

3. Knee braces

Knee braces are often recommended for young athletes in training. There are different types of knee support braces for different uses (9).

A knee sleeve is used in the treatment of Patellofemoral pain and to reduce swelling. The sleeve is slid over the knee and helps compress the knee region and also keeps it warm.

Knee pads come with additional padding and are more a prevention than a remedy for knee pain. They minimize the risk of injury during sports and activities such as skateboarding.

Patellar tracking orthosis braces are used to hold the patella in one place and prevent dislocation. Some athletes use these braces to reduce Patellofemoral pain.

Patellar straps are used mostly by athletes with anterior knee pain. These straps are positioned below the kneecap, applying pressure on the patellar tendon.

Hinged knee braces are used to support the ligaments around the knee and to prevent injury caused in contact sports such as football.

[ Read: Back Pain In Children ]

For the desired results, consult the child’s doctor or physical therapist before you choose one of these braces.

4. Orthotics and footwear

Your doctor or physical therapist may recommend the use of insoles (shoe inserts) to prevent the foot from overpronation, reduce the pain. Athletes may be recommended use of special athletic shoes that provide the correct support during sporting activities and prevent injuries (10).

As a reminder, do not use medication or knee braces for a child’s knee pain without consulting a doctor first.

Preventing Knee Pain

The knee contains the tibia bone, which is one of the most important weight-bearing bones in our body, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

This means the knee bones are under severe pressure when we engage in everyday activities such as walking, running, or standing up. This increases the possibility of a sprain or injury to the muscles, tendons, or ligaments in the knee region. One way to prevent this is to strengthen the knee muscles and bones.

Other ways to prevent knee pain in children are:

  • Losing weight
  • Doing warm up exercises in the beginning and relaxing exercises at the end of a workout
  • Regular exercise to strengthen the knee muscles and bones to reduce the chances of knee injury or damage
  • Bending the knees during landing while jumping
  • Training throughout the year to stay fit and reduce the likelihood of injury, especially if the teenager plays a sport such as soccer or football
  • Using the right type of running or sport shoes
  • Avoiding running down hills or steep terrains which require the child to put extra pressure on the knees

[ Read: How To Cure Jumper’s Knee In Children ]

Home Care And Herbal Remedies For Knee Pain

Sometimes, all your child needs is a little rest and lot of TLC at home to get relief from knee pain. Here are a few home care tips as well as herbal home remedies you can rely on for alleviating knee pain.

  1. Rest: If the pain is due to a sprained muscle or ligament, resting the knee will minimize the sprain and reduce the pain. Place a small pillow under the knee when resting for relief.
  1. Ice packs: If there is a swelling along with pain, ice helps. Apply an ice pack immediately after the injury to minimize the chances of swelling. Avoid hot water, hot showers, or hot tubs that can aggravate swelling, for at least 48 hours after the injury.
  1. Compression: Swelling of the knee can be decreased by wrapping it tightly (not too tightly though) with an elastic bandage. The bandage will help with the swelling and stabilize the knee injury. As the swelling decreases, the pain may also decrease.
  1. Elevate: Swelling can be minimized by stretching the swollen knee in an elevated position. When sitting, use soft pillows to prop up the knee above the heart’s level. When sleeping, just place one pillow to elevate the knee slightly.
  1. Massage: If there is no swelling, the pain in the knee can be alleviated with a gentle massage.

In addition to these, a few herbal remedies can also ease the knee pain in kids. The herbs can be used as dietary supplements in food.

  • Willow bark, which is commonly used to treat inflammation, pain, and fever, is known to relieve knee pain in some people, especially in case of some forms of arthritis (11).
  • Ginger extract can also help reduce pain caused due to arthritis. However, it works well when taken alongside any prescription medications for arthritis (12).
  • Apple cider vinegar has alkalizing properties that can alleviate knee pain. Drinking a glass or two of warm water mixed with a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar can eliminate the toxins in the knee region. It can also restore the lubricants around the joint which enhances the flexibility of knee movement and also relieves pain.
  • Cayenne pepper has capsaicin, which is a natural pain reliever. For anterior knee pain, make a paste of cayenne pepper powder and warm olive oil and apply it on the knee twice a day. You can also mix it with apple cider vinegar and clean the knee region with the liquid. If you do not want to use raw cayenne pepper, use an ointment or gel that contains it.
  • Mustard oil has been used in Ayurveda medicines for long. Massaging the knees with mustard oil can reduce inflammation, improve blood circulation, in that part of the body and also alleviate pain.

[ Read: Broken Tailbone In Children ]

Lemon, turmeric, Epsom salt, fenugreek seeds, and eucalyptus oil are other herbal ingredients that can be used to relieve or alleviate knee pain in children. These remedies work best when they are used to supplement the medical treatment prescribed by the doctor or the physical therapist.

Our knees are perhaps the most important part of our body because they are the primary carriers of our body weight. So they are carrying your burden for you! Help your children take good care of their knees when they are young so that they can prevent knee-related illnesses such as osteoporosis or osteoarthritis when they grow up.

Do you know of any more home remedies or exercises that can help children with knee pain? Share them with use here.

Recommended Articles:

Was this information helpful?

The following two tabs change content below.

Sagari Gongala

Sagari is a math graduate and studied counseling psychology in postgraduate college, which she uses to understand people better. This skill also helps her write better articles about kids and their behavior. She is meticulous in her research and gives you information that could be the ultimate help you’ll need in times of need. An animal lover, vegan, and coffee addict, Sagari puts her mind and soul into whatever she does. During her free time, you'll find her either rescuing a sick/injured animal with a friend, or glued to her couch watching Sons Of Anarchy on Netflix.
FaceBook Pinterest Twitter Featured Image