Many runners are familiar with knee pain resulting from patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), more commonly known as runner’s knee. While this is the most common source of knee problems in runners, there is another lesser-known condition that can affect younger athletes: Osgood Schlatter Disease (OSD). This is an important consideration for coaches and parents of adolescents and pre-adolescent athletes.
What is Osgood Schlatter Disease?
Dr. Kris Sheppard at the Runner’s Academy in Toronto explains that OSD primarily affects young male athletes between the ages of 12 and 15, and young female athletes between the ages of eight and 12. Jumping and running activities are typically the reason OSD develops because they cause an increased pulling on the patellar ligament. This can lead to microtears in the ligament and the cartilage of the knee, resulting in inflammation in the growth plate and causing a painful bump just below the knee. This pain can last for a few weeks up to a few months, or even be on and off for a few years until the growth plate fuses.
Sheppard says young athletes are at a greater risk for developing OSD because they are still growing. When a young person is engaging in a high-intensity activity (like running) while they’re experiencing a growth spurt, the load and stress could be more than their knees can handle.
Young athletes: less is more
Sheppard emphasizes that when it comes to training young athletes, care needs to be taken around training load, particularly while they’re experiencing a growth spurt, as their bodies are trying to adapt to the workload of running and growing at the same time.
“Typically, this is a tough pill to swallow for runners,” he says. “Remember the purpose of training is the effect it has on your body not the amount of work. Less can be more.”
For young runners who are already experiencing the symptoms of OSD, Sheppard cautions against trying to run through the pain. Although it is rare, OSD can sometimes progress into an avulsion fracture if it isn’t properly managed. Aside from managing running load, treatment for OSD typically includes stretching and self-massage. Releasing the quads and hip can reduce tension, which ultimately reduces the traction on the patellar tendon.
Once the pain has subsided, it is important for the athlete to work with a professional to develop a plan that focuses on increasing strength through the hip muscles and quads, improving mobility in the hip and ankle to reduce strain through the knee and reducing over-striding, which puts excess load on the quads. From there, you can re-introduce running gradually.
Young runners may be more resilient in many ways, but it is important to remember that adolescents and young teenagers are still growing. This increases the demands on their bodies and can lead to injuries if they’re not careful. Working with these athletes to help them manage their training volume to avoid injuries will help ensure that they are able to continue running well into adulthood.