Osgood Schlatters can be incredibly debilitating and if left untreated can last many years or even become permanent. Thankfully, in our experience it does not have to be like that!
The common “treatment” for Osgood is long-term rest, this is wrong
Typically we hear from parents of young teenagers who’s doctor has diagnosed Osgood Schlatters and recommended they stop playing sport for 12-18 months. For a sport obsessed young athlete this is a drastic and devastating diagnosis.
Doctors recommend a course of rest because Osgood Schlatters is considered a “growing” condition. Rest is one obvious way to avoid irritating the knees whilst the growth plates are shifting around.
During rapid growth, teenagers’ bones are lengthening faster than their tendons or muscles. This growth spurt of 12-24 months usually coincides with peak pain levels. So from a medical perspective, Osgood Schlatters technically lasts for as long as an athlete’s tendons take to catch up with their longer bones.
Aside from the physical challenges this adds a significant mental health burden on young people. No parent wants to be enforcing this miserable layoff from sport without a certain outcome, but also you want what is best and would hate to make the condition worse.
Unfortunately in reality, without actual intervention, the underlying tendon issues and knee pain can persist in some cases for much longer.
Does rest help Osgood Schlatter disease?
This typical Osgood Schlatters “treatment” of rest is in some ways logical. But instead of complete rest, you should be having relative rest.
It is not appropriate to aggressively push through pain as this can make the condition worse. But simply resting in the hope of waiting out a growth spurt ignores the fact that Osgood Schlatters is also very much a tendon injury. Modern sports science has many innovative and non-invasive methods of treating tendon injuries that are also highly effective in accelerating recovery from Osgood Scahlatter Disease.
Aside from the mental and physical downsides of young athletes being prevented from playing sport for 12-24 months, there is also a serious risk that if left untreated the Osgood Schlatters symptoms simply become more permanent.
A treatment that is essentially “just do nothing” can lead to unresolved tendon problems which re-emerge as an adult. Adults who had Osgood Schlatters as children and stopped playing sport frequently contact us when their symptoms re-emerge while travelling or trying to play sport again! Many of these adults also have a permanent lump under their knee from having not addressed the injury early enough.
Taking months or years off sport and using a brace to support the knee on return to sport can actually exacerbate the underlying causes of Osgood Schlatters. We have written elsewhere about using a knee brace for Osgood Schlatters, but essentially we suggest using braces conservatively otherwise it can become a crutch that masks problems.
Treating Osgood Schlatters like an injury
We consider Osgood Schlatters to be an injury. It helps to re-frame Osgood as an injury rather than a disease with young people because it makes it something they feel can be healed in a reasonable amount of time.
Teenagers who play sports are pretty familiar with injuries like rolled ankles, and they understand that injuries require active rehabilitation.
In our experience while growth spurts contribute to the conditions that make Osgood Schlatters possible, they do not determine whether it can be resolved!
Like many tendon conditions and injuries, Osgood Schlatters responds very well to a strategic approach to load management, combined with targeted strengthening exercises, mobility and flexibility work, as well as sound movement pattern development.
Our seven week Osgood Schlatters treatment program takes knowledge from leading sports and rehabilitation science surrounding tendon injury management and adapts it to the specific circumstances usually found in children and teenagers suffering from the condition. The whole program can be completed from home with minimal equipment in a few minutes every day. All while still maintaining at least some level of regular sporting participation.
Sadly many parents find us after already withdrawing their child from sport for months or even years. They are shocked to discover our advice is generally to continue with their sport for the entire seven-week Osgood treatment. (If this is you, don’t fear: it is not too late to get started treating the underlying issues!)
It is extremely common that young athletes who have been told they must quit sport for years begin our program and reduce their pain dramatically within weeks. Addressing the root cause of their pain actually helps improve their athleticism and sets them up for years of sport ahead.