Symptoms of Osteoarthritis in Children
Although OA isn’t prevalent in children, it also isn’t impossible to contract before middle age. It may be true that arthritis in general (and osteoarthritis in particular) is a disease that typically comes later in life, but some events, inherited conditions, and physical abnormalities can start in childhood and trigger OA symptoms well before it normally occurs. In other cases, serious illness could be masquerading as OA, which makes deeper investigation and swift diagnosis even more important.
Primary OA vs Early-Onset OA
Osteoarthritis that occurs with regular wear and tear – not triggered by an underlying cause – is known as “primary” OA. Essentially, this means that OA has developed over time rather than from a trauma or other condition, and it rarely affects people under the age of 40.
Early-onset osteoarthritis is somewhat different. It bears many of the same markers as the “primary” type (such as stiffness and less range of motion), but it most often involves a deep-seated problem in the bones or joints that becomes OA. This is considered “secondary” OA, and it’s the type that’s seen in children. In some cases, the trouble stems from a traumatic event, but in most cases, the problem is congenital (present since birth).
Causes of Early-Onset OA and its Symptoms
Many, if not most, cases of osteoarthritis in childhood involve the hips. But wherever it hits first, damage tends to progress into arthritis rather than attack the joints right from the start. In many circumstances, the blood flow to the bone is limited or cut off, which eventually kills the bone or tissue (avascular necrosis) and triggers the onset of arthritis.
- Congenital hip dislocations. Some children are born with a dislocated hip, which can cause severe problems from a very young age. A major problem with congenital hip problems is that it can take some time to spot the issue, but if the problem can be diagnosed and corrected before age 6, it very likely won’t lead to osteoarthritis.
- Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease. This condition of the hip was once considered a form of childhood arthritis, but it is more accurately described as a necrosis – that is, an area of dead bone. Legg-Calve-Perthes is a congenital disease that prevents blood from reaching the hip, weakening the bone and causing a noticeable limp. It becomes evident between the ages of 2 and 12, and if left untreated, this condition will develop into arthritis.
- Physical trauma. High impact, physically strenuous exercise can cause stress fractures in any athlete; when these small bone splits occur in children, the bone growth plate (known as the epiphysis) can be damaged. A fragmented epiphysis can lead to premature OA.
- Genetic mutations. Deficiencies in cartilage, abnormal development of the bone growth plate, and other barriers to normal bone and tissue growth can be inherited through the genes. Dwarfism, hypermobility, and dislocated hips are examples of genetic mutations that can lead to early-onset OA. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to find the specific genes that are to blame, and treating the problems can be just as difficult.
There are several other lesser-known diseases that can lead to avascular necrosis, and in turn, osteoarthritis in adolescence. On the other hand, there are a number of conditions that may seem like arthritis or OA precursors at first, but are actually different sorts of conditions that require different treatment plans.