What is Osgood-Schlatter disease?

Osgood-Schlatter disease is a common cause of knee pain in growing children and young teenagers. It’s characterized by inflammation in the area just below the knee. This area is where the tendon from the kneecap attaches to the shinbone (tibia). The condition most often develops during growth spurts.

During the growth spurts of adolescence, certain muscles and tendons grow quickly and not always at the same rate. With physical activity, differences in the size and strength of the quadriceps muscle can put more stress on the growth plate near the top of the shinbone. The growth plate is weaker and more prone to injury than other parts of the bone. As a result, it can become irritated during physical stress and overuse. The irritation can result in a painful lump below the kneecap. This is the main sign of Osgood-Schlatter disease.

Osgood-Schlatter disease is typically diagnosed in adolescents during the beginning of their growth spurts. Growth spurts usually start between ages 8 and 13 for girls, and between ages 10 and 15 for boys. Teenage athletes who play sports that involve jumping and running are more likely to develop the disease.

In most cases, Osgood-Schlatter disease can be treated successfully with simple measures, such as rest and over-the-counter medication.

Common symptoms of Osgood-Schlatter disease include:

  • knee or leg pain
  • swelling, tenderness, or increased warmth under the knee and over the shinbone
  • pain that gets worse with exercise or high-impact activities, such as running
  • limping after physical activity

The severity of these symptoms often varies from person to person. Some individuals experience only mild pain during certain activities. Others experience constant, debilitating pain that makes it difficult to do any physical activity. The discomfort can last from a few weeks to several years. The symptoms typically go away once the growth spurt of adolescence is finished.

Osgood-Schlatter disease most commonly occurs in children who participate in sports that involve running, jumping, or twisting. These include:

  • basketball
  • volleyball
  • soccer
  • long-distance running
  • gymnastics
  • figure skating

Osgood-Schlatter disease tends to affect boys more often than girls. The age at which the condition occurs can vary by sex, because girls experience puberty earlier than boys. It usually develops in girls between ages 11 and 12 and in boys between ages 13 and 14.

A doctor will perform a physical exam and check your child’s knee for swelling, pain, and redness. This will usually provide the doctor with enough information to make an Osgood-Schlatter disease diagnosis. In some cases, the doctor may want to perform a bone X-ray to rule out other potential causes of knee pain.

Osgood-Schlatter disease usually resolves on its own once a growth spurt ends. Until then, treatment is focused on relieving symptoms, such as knee pain and swelling. Treatment typically involves:

  • icing the affected area two to four times a day, or after doing physical activity
  • taking over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
  • resting the knee or reducing physical activity
  • wrapping the knee or wearing a knee brace
  • stretching
  • physical therapy

Some children may be able to participate in low-impact activities, such as swimming or biking, as they recover. Others may need to stop participating in certain sports for several months so their bodies have time to heal properly. Talk to your child’s doctor about what activities are appropriate and when a break from sports is necessary.

Osgood-Schlatter disease usually doesn’t cause any long-term complications. In rare cases, children with the disease may experience chronic pain or ongoing swelling. However, taking over-the-counter pain relievers and applying ice to the area can usually ease this discomfort. Some children might also need surgery if the bone and tendons in their knee don’t heal correctly.

Though Osgood-Schlatter disease is usually a minor condition, getting a proper diagnosis and treatment can help prevent complications. If your child is experiencing symptoms of the condition, you should:

  • Schedule an appointment with your child’s doctor.
  • Make sure you child sticks to their treatment plan if they’re diagnosed with Osgood-Schlatter disease.
  • Attend all follow-up appointments and notify your child’s doctor if symptoms persist.