Problems in Babies and Toddlers That Cause a Limp

If your child is limping, a prompt medical evaluation is important. While some causes of a limp may resolve with time, it is important to ensure there is not a serious underlying problem that could require urgent treatment.

Limping children, especially young toddlers might not be able to communicate verbally, and they can be frightened by the medical setting. Your child may want to sit on your lap or hold your hand while being examined, especially if they are in pain.

1

Broken Bones

doctor examining a young girl's leg, both smiling

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One of the most common causes of a limp is a broken bone. Children are notoriously very active, and the symptoms of a fracture (pain, bruising, limping) usually develop shortly after a fall or a traumatic injury.

If you don't recall seeing your child fall or cry, your doctor may discuss the possibility that someone may have hurt your toddler—such as an adult or another child. It is important that you don't allow questions about possible abuse to put you on the defensive, as the purpose is to try to protect your young child from further harm. These concerns may be raised when there are multiple broken bones or evidence of multiple healed broken bones.

2

Infection

mother checking her young daughter's temperature

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Infections are among the most worrisome causes of limping in young children. Because they have more blood supply to their bones, children are more susceptible to non-traumatic joint infections than adults.

Infections within a joint are serious medical issues, and if left untreated, a bone or joint infection may cause permanent damage, potentially leading to complications such as early arthritis of the joint.

Treatment of joint infections may require urgent surgery and intravenous antibiotics.

Bone or joint infections may be considered when there is rapidly worsening joint pain accompanied by a fever.

Tests can be done to identify fluid accumulation in the joint, and often a sample of fluid will be obtained to look for the infection.

3

Inflammation

x ray highlight the hip

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Inflammatory conditions, such as dermatomyositis and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis can cause a limp and may produce signs and symptoms similar to those of an infection. Fluid samples from the affected joint can be examined as a way to differentiate between an infection and an inflammatory disorder.

The most common type of limp-inducing inflammation is called transient synovitis, a condition that affects the hip joint, most commonly in boys. The symptoms mimic infection and are treated with anti-inflammatory medications. 

4

Tumors

child getting ct scan with her mother standing by

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Tumors are an uncommon cause of a limp in a child. Benign (noncancerous) and malignant (cancerous) bone tumors can be affect young children.

Symptoms of bone tumors often begin gradually, with gradually worsening pain and a limp. Pain at night (awakening the child from sleep) is sometimes characteristic of tumors.

Imaging tests including x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs can be helpful in identifying a bone tumor and a biopsy may be necessary.

5

Childhood Hip Disorders

Father with baby girl at home in living room
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Several childhood hip disorders can lead to limping when walking. In very young children, hip dislocations can lead to gait abnormalities.

Perthes disease is a condition that occurs when the blood supply to the bone of the ball-and-socket hip joint is impaired.

Slipped capital femoral epiphysis (SCFE) is a problem in older children (10-14) when the growth plate of the hip slides into an abnormal position. All of these hip conditions can lead to the development of a limp in a child.

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