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Knee Pain in the Young Athlete

Knee pain is a common complaint that athletes and exercise enthusiasts across all age group can probably relate to at some point throughout their lives. There are many reasons why a young athlete may experience knee pain, ranging from mild, that will go away with a bit of rest from aggravating activities to more serious conditions that may involve rehabilitation or even surgery. In this article, we are going to explore some of these reasons, and what can be done about it.


Osgood-Schlatter’s disease

This knee pain condition presents most often in young males (though can also present in females), 10-15 years of age, who compete in sports that feature a lot of running and jumping. The condition involves pain around the tibial tuberosity (the bump at the top of the shin bone).

This condition is usually self limiting, and resolves after the second growth spurt (around 14 for girls, and 16 for boys). Recovery can be sped up through physiotherapy. Your physiotherapist can help to identify which activities are contributing to the pain, and how they can be modified. Your physiotherapist can also help you return to sport quicker by identifying muscle imbalances, changes in biomechanics (how you move), postural assessment etc.


Sindig-Larsen-Johansson disease

This knee pain condition presents most often in adolescents. This is an overuse injury, which often presents in teens that participate in activities involving a lot of running, jumping, or stairs. The condition involves pain and potentially swelling around the lower portion of the kneecap. Most symptoms will resolve with rest from aggravating activities, and the condition typically resolves once the growth plates have completely formed. Recovery can be sped up through physiotherapy. Your physiotherapist can tailor a rehab program for you in order to get you back into your sport and activities as quickly as possible.


Osteochondritis Dissecans

This serious condition can present in many different joints in the body. It usually occurs in teenagers (10-20 years old) as a result of some kind of trauma (such as an impact injury), and is worsened by continued lesser trauma to the same area. For this condition, the end of the bone begins to soften, due to lack of blood flow to the bone, which in turn leads to a piece of the bone breaking off. This can cause the joint to become unstable, and often comes with pain and swelling of the joint.

This condition can be quite serious and can involve surgery if left untreated. Your physiotherapist can assist in guiding you down the right path for treatment. If physiotherapy is deemed appropriate, we can help to get you back into your sport and activity as quickly as possible. If surgery is considered to be the right approach for you, your physiotherapist can still assist in preparing you for the surgery, as well as the rehab that typically follows.


Patella-femoral pain syndrome aka Runner’s knee

This common condition can present as pain on the outside of the thigh or knee, or as pain around or behind the kneecap. This condition can occur at any age, and often presents in people that engage in activities involving a lot of running, jumping, or cycling. This sports injury usually involves overuse and often occurs as a result of muscle imbalances. Therefore, this condition responds well to a tailored rehab program from your physio involves stretching, strengthening, and soft tissue work.

These are only some of many possible sports injuries that can affect teenage athletes and their knees. In order to determine, firstly, what is causing your knee pain and, secondly, what to do about it, your physio will perform a thorough assessment of your entire lower body. A detailed assessment is vital, as often the pain and injury can be a result of another underlying condition or imbalance that needs to be addressed to stop the condition from returning.

Your sports physiotherapist will perform a thorough subjective assessment, which is basically an interview, where we go into detail about your history, how the sports injury has occurred, and what your goals of returning to sport and exercise (or other goals) will be. They will then perform a thorough objective assessment, which is where they perform all of their tests to determine where the pain and loss of performance is coming from.


How to prevent sports injuries in young athletes?

Injuries are common in teens and adolescents that are participating in sports. It is important to be aware of your limits as a young athlete. When we’re still growing, there is a greater risk of injury to our joints, as our bones still have growth plates at the ends of them that allow for faster growth. On top of this, we are also less developed in our muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Keeping this in mind, our young athletes unfortunately cannot be expected to train like an adult. Teens need rest in order to grow.

If you’re serious about your sport, it can be worthwhile seeing your physio early for “prehab”. Your physio can work with you to make sure that you’re training correctly, and putting yourself at the lowest possible risk of injury.

Physiotherapy is typically helpful and safe for everyone, at any age, as they will work with you to provide you with a tailored program to get the most out of your body and help you live a happy, healthy, and active life!


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