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What are Common Causes of Joint Pain in Children?

By Rebecca Harkin
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Joint pain in children may be caused by injury, infection or disease. The most common joint injuries are the result of repetitive use of a joint or hyperextension of a joint. Diseases that can cause joint pain in children include juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, and osteochondritis. Rheumatic fever, Lyme disease, and osteomyelitis are infections that also may produce joint pain.

Short-term or quick onset of joint pain in children is usually the result of an injury rather than a disease. A repetitive motion often required during sports or the hyperextension of a flexible, young joint are common forms of trauma that result in joint pain. If the pain decreases or disappears after a period of inactivity, then the injury was likely the cause of the pain.

When joint pain is chronic and does not subside with rest, the cause of joint pain in children may be an infection. The mostly likely infection is rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever occasionally occurs about 20 days after a strep throat or scarlet fever infection and is associated with joint pain and swelling, along with fever, shortness of breath, and chest and stomach pains.

Infected deer ticks can transfer Lyme disease, which may eventually cause joint pain. Lyme disease may initially produce just a small skin rash characterized by a pink area surrounded by darker red. Several days or weeks following the bite, joint pain, stiffness and general flu-like symptoms will develop.

Osteomyelitis is a bone infection. It is less common that the previously mentioned infections, but it also may result in childhood joint pain. The bone infection may be caused when a bloodborne infection travels to the bone, an infected puncture wound spreads to the bone, or bacteria enters the bone through a compound fracture.

When the discomfort associated with childhood joint pain does not subside with inactivity or frequently comes and goes over time, it is often the result of a disease. The most likely disease is rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis in children is typically characterized by joint pain and stiffness that hinder a child’s movement.

Children's joint pain may occasionally be caused by celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune illness in which an immune response against the digestive system is triggered by eating gluten. The disease eventually damages the ability of the intestines to properly absorb food. Joint pain is an associated symptom, and the joint pain may be the result of inflammation from the immune response in the body.

Osteochondritis, an orthopedic condition characterized by rapid bone growth, is another disease that causes joint pain in children. The result of the accelerated bone growth is a disruption of the supply of blood to the cartilage, causing bone death and then regrowth. This cycle of bone death and regrowth is thought to be the cause of the associated joint pain.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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