What is Osgood-Schlatter disease?
Osgood-Schlatter disease is a condition that happens when a tendon in the knee (the patellar tendon) pulls against the top of the shinbone. This causes pain in the knee and the upper shin.
Tendons are bands of tissue that connect muscles to bones. The patellar tendon pulls on an area of the shinbone where new bone is forming, called the growth plate. The pulling causes pain and inflammation (swelling and irritation). A hard bump may also grow right below the knee as the growth plate hardens. People with Osgood-Schlatter disease usually get better with rest, over-the-counter pain medication and time.
Osgood-Schlatter disease is sometimes referred to as growing pains or jumper’s knee.
How common is Osgood-Schlatter disease?
Osgood-Schlatter disease is very common. It is the most common cause of knee pain in children and teenagers.
Who is affected by Osgood-Schlatter disease?
Osgood-Schlatter disease happens in children and adolescents who are going through a growth spurt. This typically occurs around ages 11 to 14. Because this condition is often related to an activity or motion, it is more common in adolescents who:
- Play sports that require jumping or bending the knee (volleyball and basketball).
- Have tight quadriceps (thigh muscles).
What is the patellar tendon?
The patellar tendon is a connective band of tissue in the knee. This tendon holds the kneecap and the shinbone together. It attaches right below the kneecap and then stretches to the part of the shinbone where new bone grows (growth plate). Because of this connection point, there can be pain when a child goes through a growth spurt.
Symptoms and Causes
How do people get Osgood-Schlatter disease?
Children and adolescents get Osgood-Schlatter disease when they play sports that put repeated stress on the patellar tendon. There are certain activities –running and jumping—that cause your leg muscles to pull the patellar tendon, which pulls on the growth plate.
Sometimes called growing pains, Osgood-Schlatter disease often occurs when children are going through a growth spurt. During periods of rapid growth, the bones, muscles, and tendons shift and grow larger. These changes can put more stress on the patellar tendon and growth plate.
What are the symptoms of Osgood-Schlatter disease?
The main symptoms of Osgood-Schlatter disease are:
- Pain just below the kneecap.
Pain usually develops gradually over time, though it can appear suddenly. The pain may be worse in one knee than in the other, and it often gets worse when you run, jump, or climb.
A hard, painful bump can also appear on the front of the knee below the kneecap. This bump is new bone that grows in the place where the tendon pulls on the growth plate. Though the pain will go away, the bump may remain even after the child has grown up.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is Osgood-Schlatter disease diagnosed?
Doctors usually diagnose Osgood-Schlatter disease based on symptoms and an examination. Your doctor will consider:
- Your age (or your child’s age).
- What sports or activities may have caused the condition.
Your doctor may also take X-rays to look at the kneecap and rule out other conditions, such as a fracture.
How do I know if I have Osgood-Schlatter disease?
If you are an adolescent and you have pain right below your kneecap, you may have Osgood-Schlatter disease. Your risk of developing the condition is higher if you play sports that involve jumping or bending your knees. A hard bump on the front of your knee above your shin is a sign of Osgood-Schlatter disease.
Management and Treatment
What are the treatments for Osgood-Schlatter disease?
Most of the time, you can treat Osgood-Schlatter disease at home with a combination of rest, ice and over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Depending on the severity of the symptoms, your child’s doctor may recommend taking a break from the sports and activities that are causing the pain.
Many children find relief by stretching their quadriceps (thigh muscles) to release some of the tension on the patellar tendon. Some doctors also recommend using a brace called a patellar tendon strap. This thin strap fits around the knee under the kneecap. It can relieve some stress on the patellar tendon.
What are the side effects of the treatment for Osgood-Schlatter disease?
NSAIDs can have side effects. These are rare and usually only affect people who take the medications for a long time. The side effects can include:
- Pain in the stomach.
- Stomach ulcers.
- High blood pressure (hypertension).
What are the complications associated with Osgood-Schlatter disease?
Osgood-Schlatter disease rarely has complications. If the pain is severe, doctors may recommend cortisone injections (shots) to reduce the swelling and ease the pain.
In rare cases, the pain lasts for many years and can be worse when kneeling. Although surgery for Osgood-Schlatter disease is very rare, doctors can surgically remove the bone that forms under the kneecap if you have lasting, debilitating pain.
What can I do to help relieve symptoms of Osgood-Schlatter disease?
To ease the pain associated with Osgood-Schlatter disease, you can try:
- Rest: Avoid activities and sports that require jumping, running, and bending.
- Ice: Apply a cold compress to your knee to reduce swelling and relieve the tenderness and pain.
- Medication: Take over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as your doctor directs for pain relief.
- Stretching: Stretch quadriceps (thigh muscles) regularly to keep them flexible. Tight quadriceps can make the pain of Osgood-Schlatter disease worse.
- Attending physical therapy: Your healthcare provider may recommend physical therapy to help relieve symptoms of Osgood-Schlatter disease. The physical therapist will provide specific exercises during therapy sessions.
How can you prevent Osgood-Schlatter disease?
While it isn’t possible to prevent Osgood-Schlatter disease, you may be able to reduce your risk of developing the condition by:
- Participating in sports (such as swimming) that do not put stress on the knees.
- Taking a break from a sport or activity when you feel knee pain.
- Stretching your quadriceps and hamstrings (muscles in the upper part of the leg) to increase flexibility and relieve pressure on the patellar tendon.
- Wearing supportive athletic shoes with good shock absorption.
Outlook / Prognosis
What is the outlook for patients who have Osgood-Schlatter disease?
Most adolescents with Osgood-Schlatter disease recover with no lasting health effects. Children grow out of the condition as their bodies grow. The bony growths can remain on the knees through adulthood. They usually aren’t painful.
When should I call my doctor about Osgood-Schlatter disease?
If your child has knee pain, especially after running or playing sports, you should contact your doctor. It’s important to have your child examined so your doctor can rule out other conditions that may be causing the pain and swelling.