Most kids will experience an episode of limping during childhood, and a wide range of things can cause a child to limp.

Limping can be caused by something as simple as an object in a child’s shoe or a blister on a child’s foot. A limp can also be a sign of a more serious issue like a broken bone or an infection, and in rare cases, a limp can be caused by a bone disease or nervous system disorder. It’s important to determine the cause of a child’s limp before starting treatment.

Some of the most common causes of limping are:

  • Trauma/injury
  • Weakness
  • Foot puncture
  • Immunization/IM injection
  • Splinter/sliver
  • Blister
  • Tight shoes/something in the shoes
  • Swollen joints

But the most common cause is leg pain from a minor injury. In a young child, the unexplained limp could be from a minor hip injury or mild sprain from jumping off furniture or swings.

Some questions to consider when evaluating your child’s limp are:

  • Does the leg look deformed? 
  • Has pain medication been administered?
  • Does the child have a fever?
  • Is there redness or swelling?
  • Is there pain at the joint?
  • Can he/she bend and straighten the leg normally?
  • Is your child willing to stand and walk?

For minor causes such as new shoes, a splinter, a blister or an injection, simple first-aid treatment can be performed at home. Either a warm or cold compress can be applied to the affected area for 10 to 20 minutes. This will usually help ease discomfort.

Giving an appropriate dose of pain medication—either acetaminophen or ibuprofen—should help reduce the pain. If the pain continues to be severe two hours after the pain medication is given, call your pediatrician for instructions.

Call your pediatrician immediately if your child is limping and has a fever, swelling, redness or tender areas, or has a joint that doesn’t move normally. If unable to reach him or her, then have your child seen in the emergency department.

This article was written by Kathy Hotard, RN, Answer Line nurse at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.


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