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Osgood-Schlatter Disease: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Osgood-Schlatter Disease
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Osgood-Schlatter disease is a common health disorder that usually occurs in growing teenagers, particularly those going through a growth spurt. The symptoms of the condition make it impossible for children or teenagers to enjoy routine activities like jumping, squatting, climbing or running. Osgood-Schlatter disease can be a cause for concern, but if managed properly, it can be resolved successfully.

What is Osgood-Schlatter Disease?

Osgood-Schlatter disease is a common, short-term health condition that causes pain in the knees of older children and teenagers, particularly those who participate in sports and apply too much stress to their patellar tendon. The patellar tendon connects the bottom of the kneecap to the top of the lower leg (x).

In activities that involve loads of bending and jumping, such as soccer, basketball, volleyball, hockey, ballet, skating or gymnastics, the quadriceps (thigh muscle) pull tightly against the kneecap and patellar tendon.

How Does Osgood-Schlatter Disease Occur?

The patellar tendon fibers are connected to the tibia (shinbone). Constant pulling against these attachments can cause the tendon fibers to become inflamed around or at its connection to the bone. This results in pain and swelling at the tibial tuberosity, the elevated area atop the shinbone. The patellar tendon connects to the bone at the tibial tuberosity.

This connection between the tibia and tendon is especially susceptible to injury and stress when the bone grows fast, and the patellar tendon remains relatively short. Thus, Osgood-Schlatter disease symptoms usually occur during the growth spurt of adolescents.

Who Does Osgood-Schlatter Disease Affect?

Osgood-Schlatter disease affects up to 20 percent of teenage athletes, and the problem affects more boys than girls (x). Adolescent growth spurt usually occurs between the ages of 10 and 16 for girls. It happens a bit later for boys (between the ages of 11 and 18). In most cases, symptoms of Osgood-Schlatter disease develop gradually due to repeated pressure on the patellar tendon. The condition is less often caused by a blow to the knee.

Osgood-Schlatter Disease Symptoms

Painful symptoms often result from jumping, running and other activities associated with sports. Sometimes, both knees are affected, although one knee could be worse off than the other (x).

Common symptoms of Osgood-Schlatter disease include:

  • Knee tenderness and pain in the tibial tubercle
  • Tight muscles at the back or front of the thigh
  • Swelling in the tibial tubercle

In most cases, Osgood-Schlatter disease disappears on its own when the teenager stops growing. Sometimes a tiny, bony but painless lump is left below the kneecap (x).

In most cases, Osgood-Schlatter disease isn’t permanent. In very few cases, adults can suffer from the condition as they get older (x). Regardless of age, though, Osgood-Schlatter disease is curable.

Osgood-Schlatter Disease Symptoms

Causes of Osgood-Schlatter Disease

Osgood-Schlatter disease may be caused by minor knee injuries due to overuse before the knee is fully grown.

The quadriceps muscle (thigh muscle) is a large and powerful muscle at the front of the upper leg. When the quadriceps muscles contract (squeeze), they cause the knees to become straight. These muscles are essential for running, climbing and jumping.

When the quadriceps are overused in sports during a child’s growth spurt, the area becomes swollen or irritated and causes pain (x).

Treatments for Osgood-Schlatter Disease

Osgood-Schlatter disease disappears on its own over time. Treatment depends on how severe the symptoms are.

While it might be uncomfortable to partake in activities that bring on knee pain, it is not dangerous to do so. Participating in activities can help strengthen the hamstring and quadriceps muscles, which is essential for a substantial recovery.

During physical activities, here’s what you can do to help relieve symptoms of knee pain (x):

  • Use a moist, warm compress or heating pad for 15 minutes before a sports activity
  • Make sure your sports shoes have shock-absorbent insoles
  • Apply ice packs periodically throughout the day and after sports activities — do so for 20 minutes at a time
  • Protect the top part of your shinbone with a protective pad
  • Raise your leg by placing a pillow below your knee as soon as it hurts
  • Use over-the-counter medications, including ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, etc.), to fight inflammation and pain
  • Stretch your hamstring and thigh (quadriceps) muscles twice or thrice a day

Taping

Taping is sometimes useful for relieving the symptoms of Osgood-Schlatter disease. Place an adhesive tape across the swollen and tender part of the bone (tibial tuberosity) when your knee is bent. Taping releases the pressure once the joint has straightened, easing some of the pain and stress.

Knee and Quadriceps Exercises

Perform exercises that strengthen your thigh (quadriceps) muscles. This can help the muscles pull more evenly against the tendons, distributing the stresses on tendons. Find exercises that help to lower the pressure on knee joints and minimize pain (x).

Stop Exercising

If you have constant knee pain, it might be necessary to stop participating in sporting activities for a while. Another option is to wear a knee brace or cast for 6 to 8 weeks. However, bear in mind that these weaken the muscles, and this might delay recovery. Consult a physical therapist before wearing a knee brace or a cast.

Surgery

Surgery can be useful if conventional treatments don’t work. Osgood-Schlatter rarely requires surgery, but if pain persists, a minor operation can be done. This involves getting rid of unhealed flake or bone areas or attaching them to the tibia (upper part of your shinbone).

Home Remedies for Osgood-Schlatter Disease

There are several alternative home remedies you can use to try to relieve Osgood-Schlatter symptoms.

Peppermint Oil

Peppermint oil may help you treat Osgood-Schlatter disease. It is believed to be a powerful natural muscle relaxant and painkiller. Studies have suggested it’s especially beneficial for joint pain and tension headaches, so take it to treat the inflammation and pain that comes with Osgood-Schlatter disease (x).

Epsom Salt Baths

An Epsom salt bath can help to ease your joint pain, particularly in the knees (x). Soak yourself in a bath to relieve the pain.

Eat Spicy Foods

Studies have suggested that spicy foods can help ease pain in the body (x). Spicy foods have capsaicin, a natural pain reliever, that helps alleviate joint pain (x).

Dry Needling

When you’re in pain, the last thing you think of is putting some needles into your skin. But dry needling may help to ease symptoms of Osgood-Schlatter disease. It works on trigger points, letting your body know that there’s a problem, and stimulates your immune systems into tackling the problem.

Supplements for Osgood-Schlatter Disease

Several supplements can be useful for helping ease muscle and joint pain:

Collagen

Collagen is the substance that allows for smooth movement of the joints without pain. Studies show that taking more collagen can benefit activity-related joint pain (x). Like repairing a hinge, adding more grease (collagen) can help the joint move more smoothly. Take 2,500 mg two to four times daily.

Chondroitin Sulfate Powder

Chondroitin sulfate is found naturally in the body and helps maintain healthy joints, bones and skin. It produces collagen, which helps keep your joints flexible and your skin looking smooth and youthful. It also reproduces cartilage, which helps heal wounds and maintain tissue integrity. Take 750 to 1,500 mg daily when using this supplement.

D-Glucosamine HCL Powder

Glucosamine is composed of amino acids and glucose. Supplemental glucosamine can help boost overall health. If you intend to take this product, do some research on the product to decide if its benefits are worth your while. As a dietary supplement, take 500 to 1,000 mg one to three times daily.

D-Glucosamine Sulfate Potassium

Glucosamine sulfate potassium contains both sulfur and glucosamine. Supplementation can help promote good overall health. For this supplement, take 1,000 mg up to three times daily. Nursing or pregnant women should first consult their doctor before supplementation.

Selenium

Selenium is a vital trace mineral that is needed for various bodily processes, such as cognitive function, fertility in men and women, and immune system health. It contributes to DNA synthesis and thyroid hormone metabolism and helps protect against infection and oxidative damage (x).

Selenium can be obtained from various foods, including meats, seafood, eggs, brown rice, and Brazil nuts. The level of selenium in each food depends on the concentration of selenium in the water and soil where farmers grew the food.

Individual needs may vary, so consult your doctor about the right dosage for you.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble nutrient that works primarily as an antioxidant. This means it protects against cell damage caused by free radicals. It might help reduce the risk of various health conditions, from cancer to heart disease and possibly even dementia (x).

Apart from providing cell protection, this vitamin is essential for a healthy immune system. It also promotes healthy hair and skin and helps normalize cholesterol levels. It may also improve athletic endurance.

The Bottom Line

Osgood-Schlatter disease refers to swelling and pain under the knee area above the shinbone in growing children and teenagers caused by overuse. It may affect one of the knees or both. The most common symptoms include swelling and pain under the knee and over the shinbone (tibia). The pain can be made worse by activities that require jumping, climbing and running (x).

Osgood-Schlatter disease may result from minor, often unnoticed injuries brought on by frequent overuse before the knee area is fully grown. The condition is mostly found in active, athletic teenagers, typically between the age of 10 and 15. It’s prevalent in teens who play sports like soccer, volleyball, and basketball, as well as those who partake in gymnastics. The disease affects more males than females.

Treatment for Osgood-Schlatter disease begins with rest, ice, and NSAIDs like Ibuprofen. In rare cases where symptoms don’t disappear, a brace or cast can help prop up the leg until it recovers. This usually takes 6 to 8 weeks. In severe cases, surgery may be required.

About the author

Haron Omaita


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