Causes of a limp

Many things can cause a limp – some are painful and some aren’t. The most likely causes of limping will vary according to the age of your child.

Simple and usually obvious causes 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 favour the leg that doesn’t hurt when she walks. She’ll put as little weight as possible on the leg that hurts. She’ll usually feel pain all over her hip, but  might be able to point to the painful area.

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.

When to see a doctor about a limp

If your child limps for more than a day and there’s no obvious cause – for example, 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.

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.

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

For minor injuries, your child must just need to rest. For more serious problems, your GP might refer your child to a specialist for further assessment.