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Joint Pain in Children

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Complaints of joint pain are common in children and usually do not indicate anything serious. In most cases, a good night’s sleep or a dose of Tylenol will make them go away. However, if your child has ongoing pain, swelling, or tenderness to the touch, it can sometimes indicate a more serious condition. An appointment with a rheumatologist from our Pediatric Rheumatology Program can help you understand whether your child’s pain needs treatment.

What causes joint pain in children?

The most common causes of joint pain in children are growing pains. They occur most often in children between the ages of three and nine and affect some children more than others. They can be severe enough that they interrupt sleep.

Acute and overuse injuries are another common cause of joint pain in children. In athletic children, overuse injuries—the result of repeating the same motion again and again—have become more common as youth sports become more specialized.

Much less frequently, joint pain is a sign of an autoimmune disorder, in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue and cells. Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), systemic lupus erythematosus (also called lupus or SLE), and juvenile dermatomyositis are autoimmune conditions that cause joint pain.

What are the symptoms of joint pain in children?

Symptoms of growing pains include:

  • Ache or throb, usually in the thighs, legs, and back of the knees. Growing pains occur less often in the arms.
  • Intermittent pains (not occurring every day)
  • Pain at night which subsides during the day
  • Pain in both legs at the same time

Symptoms of a more serious condition include:

  • Pain or stiffness in the morning
  • Swelling, tenderness, or redness in the joints
  • Joint pain accompanied by a rash
  • Persistent pain in the joint

When should I see a doctor about my child’s joint pain?

If your child’s joint pain is associated with an injury, see a doctor immediately.

If your child is experiencing symptoms that persist or indicate something more serious than growing pains—such as swelling, tenderness, or a rash—you’ll want to make an appointment with a pediatric rheumatologist. A rheumatologist will examine your child and conduct appropriate blood, urine, or imaging tests to determine the cause of the pain. Pediatic rheumtatologists have expertise in both the diagnosis and treatment of autoimmune conditions, which can be challenging to diagnose.