Osgood-Schlatter Disease

Medically Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on August 28, 2022
4 min read

Osgood-Schlatter disease is an injury that affects your knee area. It happens from overuse. Repeated physical stress and movement leads to inflammation in the specific point where your shinbone (tibia) meets the tendon from your kneecap (patella).

It causes a painful lump below the kneecap. It can affect one or both knees and happens most often in kids who play sports or do activities that involve running, jumping, and changing direction quickly. For kids and teenagers who play sports, it’s one of the most common causes of knee pain.

The symptoms of OSD aren’t always the same for everyone. Some people might get a severe case and feel constant pain, and others might have a more mild case and only feel pain when they do certain activities. Symptoms can last from weeks to months and can recur until kids stop growing.

Generally, the symptoms include:

  • Pain, tenderness, or swelling just below the kneecap

  • Pain that worsens while playing sports, running, jumping, or changing direction quickly

  • Limping after doing a sport or activity

  • In some cases, a bony lump under the kneecap

Sports and activities like basketball and ballet that require movements like running, jumping, and bending at the knee cause the muscles in your thighs (quadriceps) to pull on the tendon connecting your shinbone and kneecap. Over time, this can force the tendon to separate slightly from the shinbone. This is what causes the symptoms of OSD.

Some kids with OSD get a bony lump where the tendon and shinbone are separating. This is because their bodies are trying to grow new bone to close the gap that’s developed.

  • OSD is more common in boys than in girls, but it affects both sexes. 

  • Since boys and girls go through puberty at different ages, they can develop OSD at different times. It usually happens to boys around age 13 or 14; and in girls much younger, usually around 11 or 12.

  • It happens during puberty because of growth spurts. This is when girls and boys gain a lot of height very quickly.

Your child’s doctor will do a physical exam and look for signs of swelling, redness, pain, and tenderness. They may also order X-rays to take a closer look at the bones and the area where the tendon and shinbone attach.

Usually, kids with OSD don’t need any specific treatments. The condition gets better on its own over time. The symptoms tend to go away once their bones stop growing.

If the pain is very uncomfortable, over-the-counter pain relievers can help. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help ease symptoms, as can naproxen.

Physical therapy can sometimes help the pain, too. Certain exercises can help stretch the quadriceps and hamstring muscles in the thighs. This may ease some of the tension on the spot where the tendon and shinbone attach. Other exercises that strengthen the quadriceps can help, too, since they can stabilize the knee joint.

There are also many things your child can do at home to help relieve the symptoms:

  • Rest. Running, jumping, bending, and kneeling can aggravate OSD, so taking time off from activities that involve those movements can help prevent things from getting worse.
  • Ice. Cold applied to the area can help reduce pain and swelling.
  • Cross-training. If your child has to take time off from an activity or sport of choice, trying something different that’s low-impact, like swimming or cycling, may be a good alternative.
  • Stretching . Doing specific exercises to stretch the quadriceps can help ease some of the tension and pain.
  • Protection. If your child is going to continue playing sports, wearing a protective pad over the injury can keep it safe from more damage.
  • Stabilization with a strap. Using a special strap called a patellar tendon strap can anchor the tendon in place during activities. It fits around the leg under the kneecap and can help spread out some of the force that’s on the shinbone.

Most kids don’t have long-term complications from OSD. If they do, they might have chronic pain or swelling in the area.

Even after symptoms are gone, a bony bump might remain on the shinbone just below the kneecap. But it doesn't usually cause knee problems.

In rare cases, OSD can cause the growth plate to pull away from the shinbone.