Causes of a limp

Many things can cause a limp. The causes often vary according to age.

Obvious causes of limping include bruising to your child’s leg or foot, a tight shoe, or a wart on the sole of your child’s foot.

In preschoolers, the commonest cause of limp is a viral infection. This is called ‘irritable hip’.

More serious causes of limping might include a fracture, cerebral palsy, a bone or joint infection, or arthritis. Bone tumours can also cause a limp, but these tumours are rare.

Symptoms of a limp

If your child has a limp, she’ll put more weight on the leg that doesn’t hurt when she walks. She’ll put as little weight as possible on the leg that hurts. It will look like she’s walking in an unusual or abnormal way.

A limp can alter the way your child’s muscles work and might cause them to ache because they’re under increased strain.

If the limp is caused by an infection, your child will usually have a fever, and he’ll be irritable and not eating well.

Does your child need to see a doctor about a limp?

Yes. If your child limps for more than a day and there’s no obvious cause like a tight shoe, you should take your child to see your GP as soon as possible.

You should also see your GP if:

  • your child has an unexplained fever
  • your child refuses to walk at all
  • there’s obvious swelling of part of the hip or leg, especially around a joint.

Tests for a limp

Depending on your child’s symptoms, your GP might order some blood tests or some imaging of the leg that your child is limping with. These tests might include an X-ray, an ultrasound or even a bone scan.

Treatment for a limp

Treatment for a limp depends on its cause.

If your child is limping and in pain, you can give her some pain relief – for example, paracetamol.

For minor injuries, your child might just need to rest.

For an irritable hip, your child needs to rest. He also needs careful follow-up to check that his symptoms are improving.

For more serious problems, your GP might refer your child to a specialist for further assessment and treatment.