Hip pain in teens: What could it be?

Hip pain is surprisingly common in children and teens and can develop for many reasons. What are some of the main causes of hip pain in teens?

Hip pain is surprisingly common in children and teens. Pain can develop in the hip for a number of reasons. What are some of the main causes of hip pain in teens?

Understanding your child’s hip pain

Growing teens can develop hip pain from overuse, bone changes due to growth, changes in the blood and congenital (present from birth) conditions. It’s important to understand where and how your child is experiencing pain to let your provider know when to seek help from a pediatric orthopedist:

  • Knee and thigh pain: Children with hip issues often may experience pain in the knee or thigh instead of directly in the hip.
  • Pain at rest: Children with hip issues may have pain while lying down or resting. The pain doesn’t increase when they stand or move. This type of pain may indicate a less severe issue, unless that pain is constant or is powerful enough to wake your child from sleep.
  • Pain during movement: This type of pain happens when your child moves the hip or leg, but doesn’t increase in severity when they stand on the leg and bear weight. This type of pain often is caused by inflammation, infection or a muscle injury.
  • Pain while bearing weight: This pain type can cause a child to limp, as pain increases when they stand or walk. This type of pain may indicate an issue with the hip itself; if the pain is so severe that a child cannot put any weight on it, it can indicate a serious bone or joint issue.

Norton Children’s Orthopedics of Louisville, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine

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Hip pain causes

What could be causing your child’s hip issue?

  • Iliotibial band syndrome: This condition happens when the iliotibial band tightens and rubs across the hip bone or outer part of the knee due to overuse or inflammation. Snapping hip syndrome is caused when the iliotibial band and other tendons slide over the bones.
  • Slipped capital femoral epiphysis: With this condition, the ball of the hip joint slips off the thigh bone while it stays in the socket. A child can experience hip, thigh or knee pain with this condition.
  • Developmental hip dysplasia: In this condition, the ball-and-socket joint of the hip does not properly form in babies and young children. This condition often becomes symptomatic in the teen years. The most common long-term issue associated with the condition is residual acetabular dysplasia, a condition that causes mechanical instability in the hip.
  • Inflammatory arthritis conditions, such as juvenile idiopathic arthritis and lupus: These conditions can cause the bones to rub together. The pain often is worse in the morning and will ease during the day.
  • Bone and joint infections: Pain can be caused by conditions such as osteomyelitis (bone infection that can develop after an open fracture or damaged skin near a bone); bursa (an infection in the bursae, fluid sacs that cushion the areas where tissues and bone rub against each other); and septic arthritis (bacterial infection in a joint).
  • Avascular necrosis: This condition occurs when the blood supply to tissues is too low or completely stops. This causes the tissue to break down and die. This condition can be caused by trauma or can be a side effect of other conditions, such as sickle cell anemia, lupus and certain kinds of cancers. Avascular necrosis can cause pain and stiffening in the hip and knee.
  • Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease (also called Perthes disease): This condition, which typically occurs in boys, usually affects kids between 4 and 8 years old. It can cause a limp, and pain, stiffness and decreased range of motion can occur in the hip.
  • Sciatica: This condition occurs when the sciatic nerve becomes irritated or pinched. It causes pain down the leg from the hip and/or lower back.
  • Osteosarcoma: This is the most common type of bone cancer and the third most-common pediatric cancer. It often is in the long bones, such as upper arms and legs, but can occur in other bones. Pain and swelling are common signs of the condition.

When to get help for hip pain

The “growing pains” some children and teens experience as they grow are common. However, any hip pain in teens or other children that lingers for longer than two weeks should be checked by a medical provider, especially if there is swelling. Depending on what your provider suspects is the root cause of the hip pain, your child may be referred to a pediatric orthopedist.