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Limping child

Why is my child limping?

We see many children who have been brought to the Emergency Department because they have developed a limp (or pain somewhere in the affected leg) for no clear reason. Usually, no tests are required. Sometimes, X-rays of the hip or lower limbs are performed, especially if there has been a recent fall or injury to exclude any bone abnormalities.

Most cases are not serious and the most likely cause is ‘irritable hip’ (transient synovitis).

What is an irritable hip?

Irritable hip (or transient synovitis) is the commonest cause of limp in childhood. It is due to inflammation (not infection) of the hip joint. The exact cause is not known but it often happens after a viral illness or an injury. Your child may complain of pain in the hip, groin, thigh or knee and may have difficulty walking or crawling. Usually only one side is affected. It is generally a mild condition which gets better on its own after one or two weeks.

What can I do to help my child at home?

You should encourage your child to rest the affected leg as much as possible over the next few days. This may mean that your child does not attend school or nursery. Your child will naturally adopt the most comfortable position for themselves.


Give regular pain relief medicine such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.

Paracetamol can be given every 4-6 hours (no more than 4 times in 24 hours). Ibuprofen can be given every 6 hours (no more than 3 times in 24 hours). Do not exceed the prescribed dose.

When can I expect my child to be back to normal?

Allow your child to gradually go back to their usual activities as they improve. They should avoid sport and strenuous activities until symptoms have completely gone away.  It may take up to 2 weeks for symptoms to fully resolve. Your child may still need pain relief medicine during this time. Gradually reduce the number of times you give it in a day as they get better.

Does my child need to be seen again urgently?

If any of the below symptoms develop in your child please re-attend the Emergency Department urgently:
  • becomes unwell
  • develops a high temperature (above 38 degrees)
  • has increasing pain
  • is unable to put any weight at all on the affected leg
  • develops redness or swelling of any part of the leg or foot

These are symptoms that may indicate a more serious problem.

What if my child continues to limp?

If there is no improvement at 7 days or symptoms have not fully gone away by 14 days, you may need to be seen again at the Emergency Department.

For more information on limping children visit the Healthier Together or NHS.uk websites.

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

Resource number: ED34

Resource Type: Article

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