“Knee pain almost exclusively only affects active kids,” says sports podiatrist and founder of A Step Ahead Foot + Ankle Care Dr Brenden Brown.
“In the majority of cases the knee pain will be related to a specific period of activity.
“Sometimes you have to look back 12 hours before the pain starts to pinpoint the activity that caused it. For example, a child might be sore and suffering from a really painful knee on Sunday yet because they didn’t hobble off the footy field after their game on Saturday the parents don’t relate the pain to playing football.”
Causes of kids’ knee pain
Dr Brenden says knee pain in children is predominantly caused by Osgood-Schlatter disease.
What is Osgood-Schlatter disease?
Osgood-Schlatter disease is characterised by a painful lump just below the kneecap.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, ‘Osgood-Schlatter disease most often occurs during growth spurts, when bones, muscles, tendons, and other structures are changing rapidly. Because physical activity puts additional stress on bones and muscles, children who participate in athletics—especially running and jumping sports—are at an increased risk for this condition. However, less active adolescents may also experience this problem.’
Treating knee pain in kids
“The most common treatment approach by practitioners is stretching or advising the child to stop playing sport.
“I disagree,” says Dr Brenden.
“Telling kids to stop playing sport is not a treatment modality. It’s simply avoiding the cause of the pain. Once they start activity again, BOOM the pain re-appears!
“Similarly, stretching alone will not, in most cases, cure the underlying problem. I see children who are given stretching routines by their healthcare professionals time and time again, season after season. If knee pain is an ongoing problem for the child, we should be evaluating their foot posture in order to find the core problem and a positive long-term solution.”
Dr Brenden adds, “There are far too many viable treatment options available which can address the underlying issue of knee pain and keep children active.
“Advising a child to stop playing sport is no longer necessary and is in fact detrimental to child’s long-term health”
Tips to prevent knee pain in kids
—Warm up properly. Before you “warm up” with a jog, try walking at a moderate to brisk pace 4 times around the football field (8 times around a netball court). Start slow, increase as you progress—NEVER run!
—Ensuring you’re wearing the right footwear can help protect the knees. Wear good, supportive, sports-specific shoes (not the trendiest runners you can find!).
“Choosing appropriate footwear that’s specific to the sport being played would likely reduce the amount of foot-related injuries we see by at least 25%,” says Dr Brenden.
—Work on improving the leg muscle strength and flexibility. Isometric strength exercises are readily accessible and can be performed anywhere—even when in pain!
A Step Ahead Foot + Ankle Care is one of Sydney’s leading foot and ankle clinics. Principal podiatrist and founder of A Step Ahead Dr Brenden Brown (AKA Dr Foot) has been taking care of people’s feet for more than 20 years.
With a background in sports medicine and having served as a former president of the Australasian Podiatry Council, Brenden is a wealth of information when it comes to foot and ankle care.