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6 Things Your Pediatrician Looks for When Your Child Limps

Children can be rowdy, jumping and running and climbing with boundless energy. So it is no wonder they get hurt a lot and spend a fair amount of time covered in scrapes and bruises. But do you know how to recognize when the injury is just a minor boo-boo as opposed to something more serious?

When your child is limping, it is important to get to the bottom of the problem to make sure nothing serious is going on. There are several different conditions your child’s pediatrician will evaluate.

1. Strain or sprain—The most common cause of a limp in children is from a bump or fall, even if the trauma was not witnessed by an adult. Children can strain or sprain a muscle or ligament just as an adult can. Usually, a pain reliever such as ibuprofen for a day or two will relieve the pain.

2. Fracture—Your child’s pediatrician will also look for signs of a fracture when your child is limping. With a fracture, there will often be tenderness right over the bone that is broken. Usually, an x-ray is required to confirm the diagnosis.

3. Toxic/transient synovitis—Children may develop an inflammation of the lining of the hip joint, causing pain in the hip or even the knee. This often occurs 1-2 weeks after a viral infection. An anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen can help with the pain. Symptoms usually last no more than a week or so and go away on their own.

4. Septic arthritis—Rarely, the hip joint can get infected with bacteria. Septic arthritis is usually accompanied by fever and hip or knee pain. Your child’s pediatrician will check the hip for a decreased range of motion. This condition requires immediate attention and surgery to drain the infection.

5. Juvenile idiopathic arthritis—Rarely, a limp can signify an underlying autoimmune disease. Your child’s pediatrician will look for joint swelling and may order blood tests to help make the diagnosis.

6. Malignancy—Rarely, a limp can be a sign of a serious problem, such as leukemia or a bone tumor. There may or may not be other symptoms to go along with the limp. A blood test will be the first step to making this diagnosis, followed by more invasive tests such as a bone marrow biopsy or an MRI.

The bottom line is that any time your child is limping, he or she should be evaluated by a pediatrician. While the answer may be as simple as a pulled muscle, it is important not to miss the serious problems.


  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • The Child Who Has a Limp.
    Healthy Children
  • “My son is limping
  • Should I call his doctor?”

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