Common Types Of Knee Pain In Children And Toddlers

Common Types Of Knee Pain In Children And Toddlers

You love your child. You want the best for them and as a parent you don’t like to see them suffer; so, when they wake up in the night, tears glistening in their eyes because their legs hurt, you want to help them.

What should you do and how serious is it anyway?

The most likely answer is that they are having growing pains. It has been estimated that somewhere between a quarter and a half of all children will experience growing pains at some point.

Girl standing next to a measuring stick.

The two most common times for growing pains to occur being between the ages of 3 and 5 (toddlers) and then again between the ages of 8 and 12. Typically growing pains will occur in the evening and at night time, so don’t be surprised if your child is fine again in the morning.

Growing pains occur in the muscles and not the joints as some people think. A child with growing pains will have normal, healthy looking joints.

Why a child has growing pains is still unclear. One common theory is that it is due to bone growth however this hasn’t actually been proven yet.

If your child has growing pains they will often feel better if you cuddle, hold them or give them warmth by way of a heated pad or a warm bath. Do NOT give your child aspirin.

If your child’s pain is more serious than growing pains then cuddling and holding them is unlikely to make a difference; in fact, it is possible that their pain may increase.

In the event that your child has more serious problems than growing pains you should seek advice from a doctor. Some things to look out for are:

  • Pain in the morning or that lasts longer than a couple of weeks
  • Signs of joint problems or infection
  • Unusual tiredness

REMEMBER: Pain is the body’s way of saying that something is wrong. The more serious the pain; the more serious the problem.

Apart from growing pains some of the more common types of knee pain that can be found in children follow.

Problem 1 - Osgood Schlatter Disease

Osgood Schlatter disease is the result of inflammation to the tendon that attaches the kneecap to the shinbone. It is often found at times when a child is going through a growth spurt; especially if they actively take part in sports.

Osgood Schlatter Disease.

Some signs of Osgood Schlatter Disease are a pain or swelling just below the kneecap. This can sometimes lead to a noticeable bump forming. There may also be muscle pain in front of or behind the thigh.

Osgood Schlatter Disease can often be treated by stretching exercises and rest.

Problem 2 - Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Injuries

The anterior cruciate ligament is the cross shaped ligaments over the front of the knee that help hold the knee together, especially during twisting types of activities. These ligaments can tear, especially during extreme exertion or physical sports activities involving running and sudden changes in direction.

Signs that a child may have an ACL injury include

  • A popping sound at the time of the injury
  • Limited movement of the knee; especially when it comes to straightening the knee
  • ​Strong pain in the knee
  • Swelling of the knee

While surgery is an option, this is generally not preferred in children until they are close to having finished their growing due to possible damage to growth plates in their knee.

A common treatment for ACL injuries in children is to support the knee and work with a physiotherapist developing a plan of exercises that will help to decrease the pain and reduce the swelling. Ultimately the goal will be to fully restore function to the knee.

Problem 3 - Jumper’s Knee

Jumper’s knee (patellar tendinitis) is a repetitive strain injury of the tendon just below the kneecap and as its name suggests is more commonly found in children who participate in sports involving regular jumping (such as basketball).

The symptoms of Jumper’s Knee are pain in the lower part of the kneecap and inflammation. If left untreated and the physical activity is continued it is possible to cause a fracture.

Jumper's knee.

Jumper’s Knee can be treated by resting the knee and applying an ice pack. A doctor may recommend anti-inflammatory medication however it is a good idea to check with a doctor first before deciding to self-medicate.

Problem 4 - Tight Thigh Muscles

A child with tight thigh muscles will often struggle to reach past their knees as a result of unusual tightness in their lower back muscles and their hamstrings.

Apart from usually being unable to reach past their knees children may also experience pain in their kneecaps.

Some of the signs that a child has tight muscles in their lower back can be if they are sitting with their legs wide apart and their neck sticking out.

A suitable medical professional will often recommend muscle stretching and strengthening exercises in order to correct the problem.

Problem 5 - Knock-knees

Knock knees (medically known as Genu Valgum) is evident when a child is standing up straight and their knees are touching but their ankles are unable to.

It can be commonly found amongst two to five-year old’s as it helps increase their balance during the early years of walking. Most will naturally grow out of it as they get older. Generally, by the time a child is seven about ninety-nine percent of children will have less than a three-inch gap between their ankles.

Knocked knees.

If knock-knees can often be corrected by way of physiotherapy if a child is not growing out of it.


Knee aches and pains are common in children as they are growing. Generally, if the pain seems to occur in the evenings and at night time and can be cured by a cuddle or with warmth then it is likely to just be growing pains.

If your child’s pain seems different from the typical signs of growing pains then you may want to visit a doctor to have your child checked out.

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