Knee pain is one of the most common sporting injuries experienced by active teenagers. It’s particularly common in the early teenage years 11-14. There can be numerous causes of adolescent knee pain. Teenagers can suffer from any of the same causes of knee pain as adults such as tendon, joint, muscle, ligament or meniscus injury, but also have a tendency to develop knee pain for developmental reasons.
The early teenage years coincide with a period of rapid growth for boys and girls. Very often muscle imbalance issues which develop as a result of rapid growth can lead to knee pain. In adolescents muscle growth and development lags behind bone growth. Rapid growth in terms of height therefore often means that soft tissues such as muscles and tendons have some catching up to do. This can result in tight muscles following growth spurts which can often present as knee pain. This is particularly the case in sporting teens, where training and exercising on shortened or tight muscles can lead to injury.
Excessive training, in particular on hard, unforgiving surfaces at times of growth may also result in adolescents developing Osgood Schlatters Disease, a painful, but self-limiting condition affecting the bone just below the knee cap. Osgood Schlatters Disease occurs when powerful quadriceps muscles, particularly in sporting teenage boys, tug via the patella ligament on the tibia, just below the knee cap. Bone, which is relatively soft and mouldable in teenagers, may grow in response to the forces applied by powerful quadriceps in an abnormal direction. Osgood Schlatters is diagnosed by observation and palpation of a prominent “bump” just below the knee cap on the tibia at the quadriceps insertion. The condition can be managed, based on the patients symptoms, with a reduction in the amounts of activity taken and some advice on stretching from a chartered physiotherapist. Generally the pain passes quickly and rarely last into late adolescents.
Adolescents on the whole have a lot more potential for knee problems due to the rapid growth that they experience in these years. Luckily most of the injuries are related to soft tissue tightness or muscle imbalance of some description. Adequate rest from activity and stretching is usually all it takes for teens to make a full recovery.