Children at Play

Osteoarthritis is a condition that is typically associated with older adults whose bones and joints have begun to deteriorate with age.1,2 However, young adults can develop this condition as well, especially if they are very active in sports.3 These are the causes of osteoarthritis in young people, symptoms that parents should watch for, and possible treatment options to pursue in order to avoid long-term consequences.

Causes of Osteoarthritis in Young Individuals

Joint degeneration occurs in athletes and young individuals through damage to the articular cartilage caused by repetitive impact and loading.3 This damage often comes from high impact sports like football, soccer, and hockey.

Young athletes who suffer joint injuries, such as meniscus injuries of the knee and rotator cuff injuries of the shoulder, are more prone to developing osteoarthritis. More than 3.5 million children receive treatment for sports injuries each year.

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However, genetics also plays a role in the development of osteoarthritis.4 More than 50 percent of osteoarthritis cases result from a hereditary disposition, which means that playing sports is not always to blame. Young people who are overweight are also more prone to musculoskeletal disorders, and excessive force to an overweight youth’s joints could lead to osteoarthritis.5,6,7

Symptoms to Watch for in Youth

Since children and young adults may not understand what the symptoms of osteoarthritis mean when they feel them, it is important for parents to keep a close watch on the pain their children are feeling. Young people often have higher pain tolerance, which makes the diagnosis of osteoarthritis difficult or delayed.

Common symptoms include localized pain, reduced range of motion, stiffness, crepitation, and morphological deformities.8,9 Young adults are usually most affected by osteoarthritis in the hips, shoulders, and knees.

Treatment Options for Young Osteoarthritis Sufferers

There are several treatment options available for parents whose kids suffer from this illness. A major concern for youth and their parents are the implications of osteoarthritis later in life after an amateur sports career is over.

Short-term goals of treatment may be to restore optimal joint functioning and safely allow the young athlete to return to the sport. Long-term goals, however, should be to sustain the longevity of the affected joint so that an active lifestyle can be enjoyed for many years to come.

Regardless of age, the most recommended initial form of treatment for people with osteoarthritis is exercise.10 This may seem ironic for young athletes whose condition may have been caused by exercise in the first place. Ultimately, it’s important to teach children how to know when to rest and take a break from physical activity.

Physical therapy has helped many young people who have this condition, especially muscle strengthening, muscle stretching, and neuromuscular control exercises. Hot and cold application on the joint, massage, hydrotherapy, and range-of-motion exercises have also proven to be effective with young patients. Meanwhile, topical creams like JointFlex can instantly relieve pain and help youth get back to the activities they love.

Surgery may be recommended in very severe cases of osteoarthritis in children and teens. For example, Comprehensive Arthroscopic Management (CAM) has been for used advanced arthritis of the shoulder in young patients, and bone-preserving types of shoulder replacement surgeries have been used in very severe cases.11 Discuss all of these options with the youth’s doctor to determine the best course treatment based on age, body part, and severity.

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1. Osteoarthritis. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved October 19, 2018 from,P00061.
2. Kontzias, A. (2017 July). Osteoarthritis (OA). The Merck Manual: Consumer Version. Retrieved October 17, 2018 from,-joint,-and-muscle-disorders/joint-disorders/osteoarthritis-oa.
3. Amoako, A. O. & Pujalte, G. G. A. (2014 May 22). Osteoarthritis in young, active, and athletic individuals. Clinical Medicine Insights: Arthritis Musculoskeletal Disorders, 7, 27-32. Retrieved October 18, 2018 from National Center of Biotechnology Information
4. Fernández-Moreno, M., Rego, I., Carreira-Garcia, V., & Blanco, F. J. (2008 December). Genetics in osteoarthritis. Current Genomics, 9, 542-547. Retrieved October 18, 2018 from National Center for Biotechnology Information
5. Krul, M., Van Der Wouden, J. C., Schellevis, F. G., Van Suijlekom-Smit, L. W. A., & Koes, B. W. (2009 July). Musculoskeletal problems in overweight and obese children. Annals of Family Medicine, 7, 352-356. Retrieved October 18, 2018 from National Center of Biotechnology Information
6. Smith, S. M., Sumar, B., & Dixon, K. A. (201 January). Musculoskeletal pain in overweight and obese children. International Journal of Obesity, 38, 11-15. Retrieved October 17, 2018 from
7. Widhalm, H. K., Seemann, R., Hamboeck, M., Mittlboeck, M., Neuhold, A., Friedrich, K., Hajdu, S., & Widhalm, K. (2016 March). Osteoarthritis in morbidly obese children and adolescents, an age-matched controlled study. Knee Surgery, Sports Traumatology, Arthroscopy, 24, 644-652. Retrieved October 18, 2018
8. Childhood arthritis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved October 18, 2018 from
9. Juvenile arthritis: Early signs and symptoms. Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved October 18, 2018 from
10. Osteoarthritis Treatment. Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved October 18, 2018 from
11. Millett, P. J., Horan, M. P., Pennock, A. T., & Rios, D. (2013 March). Comprehensive Arthroscopic Management (CAM) procedure: clinical results of a joint-preserving arthroscopic treatment for young, active patients with advanced shoulder osteoarthritis. Arthroscopy, 29, 440-448. Retrieved October 18, 2018 from National Center for Biotechnology Information