Osgood-Schlatter Disease

(Osgood-Schlatter's Disease)

ByFrank Pessler, MD, PhD, Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research
Reviewed/Revised Nov 2022

Osgood-Schlatter disease is painful inflammation of the bone and cartilage at the top of the shinbone (tibia).

  • This disease is caused by overuse of the leg.

  • Typical symptoms include pain, swelling, and tenderness at the knee.

  • The diagnosis is based on a physical examination and sometimes x-rays.

  • Treatment usually includes pain relief and rest.

(See also Overview of Bone Disorders in Children.)

Osgood-Schlatter disease is an osteochondrosis, which is a group of disorders of the growth plates that occur when the child is growing rapidly. Doctors are not sure what causes osteochondrosis, but the disorders do seem to run in families. Köhler bone disease, Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease, and Scheuermann disease are other osteochondroses.

Osgood-Schlatter disease develops between 10 and 15 years of age and usually affects only one leg. The disease is usually more common among boys, but the gender gap is narrowing as more girls become involved in sports programs.

The cause of Osgood-Schlatter disease is thought to be repetitive, excessive pulling of the tendon of the kneecap (patella) where it attaches at the top of the shinbone. This attachment point is called the tibial tubercle.

The major symptoms of Osgood-Schlatter disease are pain, swelling, and tenderness at the tibial tubercle at the front of the knee just below the kneecap. The pain worsens with activity and is relieved with rest.

Diagnosis of Osgood-Schlatter Disease

  • A doctor's evaluation

  • Sometimes x-rays

Doctors base the diagnosis of Osgood-Schlatter disease on an examination and the child's symptoms.

X-rays of the knee may show the tibial tubercle has enlarged or has broken into fragments. However, x-rays are generally not needed unless the child has other symptoms, such as pain and swelling that extend beyond the knee or pain that is accompanied by redness and warmth. These symptoms suggest another disorder, such as an injury or joint inflammation.

Treatment of Osgood-Schlatter Disease

  • Measures to relieve pain

  • Rarely immobilization, corticosteroid injection, and surgery

Symptoms of Osgood-Schlatter disease usually resolve after several weeks or months. Avoiding excessive exercise and deep knee bending helps reduce pain. However, doctors do allow children with Osgood-Schlatter disease to continue to participate in sports or exercise even when they are in pain.

Use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), stretching exercises, and application of ice on the affected knee may help relieve the pain.

Rarely, the leg may need to be immobilized in a plaster cast, a corticosteroid may need to be injected below the skin, or surgical procedures that involve the removal of fragments of bone, drilling, and grafting may be required.

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