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Learning About Limping in Children

What is a limp?

A limp is an uneven walk, usually from pain, weakness, or other problems. It's often caused by a bump, twist, or other minor injury. But it may also be a symptom of something more serious.

How is a limp treated?

The doctor has done a physical exam of your child. The exam gives clues about the cause of the limp. The doctor may have watched your child walk and may have moved your child's legs and hips to find the cause of the pain. Your child may get X-rays and other tests if needed. If the tests show a medical problem that needs attention, your child will get treatment for it.

If the doctor doesn't find a cause that needs more treatment, the cause of the limp may well be a minor injury. It will likely clear up on its own. The doctor may recommend rest and medicine for the pain. Ask the doctor if you can give your child acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for pain. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.

Your doctor will tell you about how long the limp should take to improve.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has increasing or severe pain.
  • Your child's leg suddenly feels weak and they cannot move it.
  • Your child has signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the sore area.
    • Pus draining from a place on the leg.
    • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, or groin.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

Where can you learn more?

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