Limping in children

Limping in children is not usually serious and could be caused by something minor like a sprain or strain. But you should see a GP if it's not obvious what's causing it.

Causes of limping in children

Limping in children is often caused by an obvious injury to the leg or foot, such as:

Sometimes it may not be clear what's causing your child to limp. The symptoms might give you an idea of what the cause might be.

But do not self-diagnose – a limp with no obvious cause should always be checked by a GP as it could be a sign of something serious.

Causes of limping in children

Other symptoms Possible cause
Sudden pain in the hip, knee or thigh, sometimes after a viral infection Irritable hip
Pain in the groin, hip or knee, stiff hip, foot or leg turns inward Slipped upper femoral epiphysis
Painful, swollen joints that lasts for longer than 6 weeks Different types of juvenile arthritis
Pain in the groin, thigh or knee after exercise, stiff hip Perthes' disease
A lump on your child's leg, weight loss, pain at night A cancer, such as leukaemia, sarcoma or lymphoma

See a GP if:

  • your child has a limp and you're not sure what's causing it

Call 999 or go to A&E if:

  • your child gets sudden pain in their hip, knee or thigh (hip problems can sometimes be felt in the thigh or knee)
  • your child cannot put any weight on their leg
  • the leg has changed shape or is pointing at an odd angle
  • your child feels generally unwell and has a high temperature or feels hot and shivery
  • your child also has severe pain in the lower part of their tummy
  • your child's symptoms get worse
What we mean by severe pain
Severe pain:
  • always there and so bad it's hard to think or talk
  • you cannot sleep
  • it's very hard to move, get out of bed, go to the bathroom, wash or dress
Moderate pain:
  • always there
  • makes it hard to concentrate or sleep
  • you can manage to get up, wash or dress
Mild pain:
  • comes and goes
  • is annoying but does not stop you doing daily activities

Treatment from a GP

Treatment will depend on what's causing your child to limp. Sometimes it may get better on its own.

A GP will examine your child and may arrange for more tests to find out what's causing your child to limp.

They might:

  • give you advice on how to treat a sprain or strain at home, such as rest and taking paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • refer you to hospital for an X-ray or to a specialist (for example, a paediatric orthopaedic surgeon) to help find the cause