Osgood-Schlatter disease (named after the two doctors who first diagnosed the condition in 1903) is a painful type of knee injury. The condition is relatively common in teenagers, and can cause problems for months or years. If you think your teen may have Osgood-Schlatter disease, learn more about the cause and symptoms of the disease, as well as what you need to do to manage the condition.
Osgood-Schlatter disease (OSD) is an overuse injury that affects the knee. During activities that need a lot of jumping or bending, the thigh muscles (or quadriceps) pull on the tendon that connects the shin bone with the kneecap. Repeated stress sometimes causes the tendon to pull away from the shin bone slightly, causing pain and swelling.
OSD normally affects adolescents who are active and play a lot of sport. For example, the injury is common in teens who play soccer and basketball or practice ballet. The condition most commonly affects boys because they are generally more active during their teen years, but girls may also suffer with OSD. Boys often suffer the symptoms of OSD between the ages of 13 and 14, while girls are more prone to the disease a few years earlier.
Spotting the symptoms
Teens normally only suffer OSD in one knee, but it can affect both limbs. Your child will generally experience pain in the affected knee. This pain is sometimes mild, but some children suffer very painful episodes. The discomfort can last for several months, and, in severe cases, OSD may interfere with your child's mobility. You may also notice that your son or daughter starts to limp.
In more severe cases, a small bony lump can develop just under the kneecap. This side effect develops when the ligament attaches itself to the shin bone. The lump is permanent, but generally becomes painless. Patients don't normally suffer any long-term problems with their knee.
OSD often occurs during an adolescent growth spurt, and your teen will normally grow out of the problem. During painful episodes, doctors may recommend over-the-counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen. In some cases, physical therapy can teach your teen exercises to stretch the affected muscles. This therapy may lower tension and help stabilize the joint.
Impact of OSD on sports and physical activity
OSD can sometimes cause problems with sport and other physical activities, and may interfere with competitive games. In very serious cases, your teen may need to stop playing for a time, or at least significantly cut back on the hours that he or she is active.
Apply an ice pack for five minutes before or after exercise to help prevent inflammation and ease pain. Knee pads can also protect your child's knees during more vigorous sports.
Orthopaedic surgery for OSD is rare, and most teens will grow out of the condition. Doctors will only recommend surgery if OSD pain persists after the child has finished growing. Ongoing pain symptoms can suggest that there are bone fragments (tibial tubercle fractures) in the affected area, which an orthopedic surgeon will need to deal with.
If the fracture displacement is five millimeters or more, a surgeon will fix the problem with open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) surgery. This is a relatively simple procedure where the surgeon puts the fractured bones back into place and uses screws, plates or rods to hold the broken bone together. For less serious fractures, a doctor will normally recommend a cylinder cast.
Osgood-Schlatter disease is a relatively common condition that can cause painful symptoms in adolescents. While most teens will grow out of the problem, it's important that parents understand what causes the condition, and how to deal with the symptoms.