Osgood-Schlatter Disease Symptoms and Treatment

This relatively common condition of the lower leg mainly affects children who are active in sports. It isn’t contagious, and it rarely results in any lasting physical harm. Here’s everything you need to know about Osgood-Schlatter.

WHAT IS OSGOOD-SCHLATTER DISEASE?

If your child develops painful swellings at the very top of the shin bone (the tibia), he or she may have Osgood-Schlatter disease (also called ‘Osgood-Schlatter condition’). The swelling may occur in only one leg at a time. Osgood-Schlatter can be seen in children as young as 10 years old, and it may persist throughout adolescence.

Researchers don’t know for sure what causes Osgood-Schlatter, but they think it might result from small stress injuries to the top part of the shinbone (an area called the ‘tibial tuberosity’). These injuries can occur due to the normal motion of the knee joint as it bends and flexes.

The tibial tuberosity is the portion of the shin bone where the powerful quadriceps (thigh) muscle attaches to the lower leg. The quadriceps muscle enables the knee to bend and straighten. When the leg is bent and straightened repeatedly while the bone is still developing, the muscle’s attachment point may become irritated and swell up. This explains why children who participate in sports like soccer may be more prone to developing Osgood-Schlatter disease.

SYMPTOMS OF OSGOOD-SCHLATTER CONDITION

The main symptom of Osgood-Schlatter is a painful bump at the top of the shinbone, just below the kneecap. Children may have general knee or lower leg pain along with the swelling. The bump may be very large or rather small. The pain of Osgood-Schlatter may get worse from activities like climbing stairs or running.

If your child has pain in the knee or legs along with an unexplained bump or swelling at the tibial tuberosity, you should seek medical attention. A physician can diagnose Osgood-Schlatter with a simple X-ray.

TREATMENT FOR OSGOOD-SCHLATTER DISEASE

Most children outgrow this condition. If your child is diagnosed with Osgood-Schlatter, the primary treatment recommendation likely will be rest. If your child participates in sports, he or she may need to take a break until symptoms get better. Meanwhile, you can apply ice packs several times a day and give acetaminophen (Tylenol) in an appropriate dosage.

Usually, resting the leg will ease symptoms and allow the child to return to sports participation – possibly without another flare-up. If the condition does recur, your child should again rest the leg until the swelling and pain have gone away.

Rarely, a health care provider may recommend putting a cast on the leg if symptoms don’t clear up with rest. Even more rarely, surgery may be required. However, most children never have symptoms again after their bones have finished growing.

OSGOOD-SCHLATTER DISEASE PREVENTION

There’s really no way to prevent getting this disease. You should not discourage your child from participating in sports. Physical activity is good for children. Most children participate in sports without ever getting Osgood-Schlatter disease. Some children who never participate in sports still get the condition. It’s better to encourage healthy levels of physical activity and let your children play sports than to keep them on the couch for fear they’ll develop Osgood-Schlatter.

Even if your child does wind up with a case of Osgood-Schlatter, rest assured the symptoms likely will clear up pretty quickly when the leg is rested. And because Osgood-Schlatter disappears once the bones stop growing, your child will go on to lead a normal, active adult life even if he or she develops the condition as a kid.

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