During the growth spurts of adolescence, certain muscles and tendons can cause pain or discomfort. Osgood-Schlatter disease is a condition connected to these growth spurts, specifically affecting the knee. This condition is typically diagnosed in growing adolescents, especially boys ages 10 to 15. Teenage athletes engaged in sports involving a lot of jumping or running tend to be more susceptible to this condition.
Osgood-Schlatter disease (OSD) is caused by irritation of the bone growth plate in the area of the tibial tuberosity, which is the top part of the shinbone (tibia) right under the knee.
This irritation results in a painful lump in that area, which is the main sign of OSD.
In medical terms, the lump is called a “bony prominence of anterior the tibial tubercle,” caused by a traction tendinitis. It is believed that as the bone at the top of the tibia becomes hardened (ossified), it also becomes more vulnerable to the effects of repeated forceful traction through the attached patellar tendon. This area will be tender to the touch and can make kneeling quite painful.
Individuals who play sports like basketball, volleyball, soccer, long-distance running, and gymnastics are also more likely to develop OSD than those who do not participate in these activities.
More boys than girls are affected with the condition. This is changing, though, because more and more girls are participating in sports during adolescence.
According to the Mayo Clinic, OSD affects nearly one in five teenage athletes (Mayo, 2011).
Common symptoms of OSD include:
- knee or leg pain
- painful or tender swelling on the shinbone
- pain gets worse with impact activities like running or stairs
Some individuals experience symptoms of OSD for several years. The symptoms typically resolve once the growth spurt of adolescence is finished.
A physical exam will typically be able to provide a physician with enough information to make a diagnosis of OSD. If you suffer pain when you try to kneel, your doctor will probably suspect this disease.
Sometimes a bone X-ray will be performed in order to rule out other potential causes of your knee pain.
The condition usually resolves on its own—as the growth of bone completes, it will eventually completely harden.
Until then, treatment of OSD is focused on relieving symptoms like pain and swelling.
Treatment typically consists of:
- icing the area two to four times a day, or after sports
- over-the-counter pain relievers (ibuprofen, acetaminophen) to help with pain and swelling
- resting and/or reducing physical activity kneeling or jumping is to be avoided but complete immobilization is usually not necessary
- wrapping the knee area or wearing a brace or strap
- physical therapy
Some children may need to stop participating in sports for several months to let their bodies heal. Talk with your doctor about what activities are appropriate, and what the signs are that a break from sports is necessary. Some individuals may be able to participate in non-impact activities like swimming or biking while healing.
In rare cases, symptoms persist and a cast or brace is warranted. Surgery to remove the small part of the bone that gets separated may be necessary if it does not fuse (join) on its own.
Osgood-Schlatter disease usually does not have any long-term complications. In rare cases, someone who had OSD may experience chronic pain or ongoing swelling. Nonprescription pain relievers and applying ice to the area can alleviate this discomfort. Sometimes a persistent lump can appear on the shinbone. This normally does not interfere with range of motion or affect movement.