Pediatric Musculoskeletal Pain

Pain is one of the most misunderstood and undertreated medical problems, especially in children. Experts in our Pediatric Pain and Headache Management Center, at Children's Health℠, work with children and teens of all ages, including babies and toddlers who are too young to explain what they feel. We can treat all types of musculoskeletal pain whether it's caused by an injury, a medical condition, or a medical treatment like surgery or chemotherapy. We also have a headache clinic for children suffering from headaches.

What is Pediatric Musculoskeletal Pain?

The musculoskeletal system is made up of muscles, ligaments, joints, tendons and bones. This system supports the body’s weight, protects internal organs and allows us to move.

Injuries or medical conditions can cause children to experience pain in their musculoskeletal system. Their pain can be sudden and severe (called acute pain) or can last for a long time (called chronic pain). Pain within the musculoskeletal system is often caused by inflammation (swelling) of joints or muscles resulting from falls, overuse and sprains. Children with conditions that affect their muscles, joints, endocrine system or nervous system can also experience pain.

At Children's Health, our pain management team works to identify the cause of your child’s pain and treat their symptoms. Our Children’s Health providers are experts in understanding pain and helping children communicate and manage their pain.

What are the different types of Pediatric Musculoskeletal Pain?

Joint pain

Joint pain in children is usually caused by inflammation or stiffness and can limit their ability to move. Children can experience joint pain from overuse of their muscles, injuries, poor diet and dehydration. Joint pain can also be a symptom of chronic medical conditions like juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

Muscle pain

Overusing muscles while exercising can cause them to hurt. Muscle pain can also be caused by infections, injuries, autoimmune diseases, nerve problems and even some medications.

Bone pain

Broken bones and surgical procedures are the most common cause of bone pain. Children often feel tenderness at the bone site. They may also ache or feel acute pain when they move.

Tendon and ligament pain

Tendons and ligaments are the bands of tissue that connect muscles to bones and help them move. Most tendon and ligament pain is caused by sprains and strains.


Headaches are one of the most common types of musculoskeletal pain. Tight muscles, inflammation, or dilated blood vessels in the head, face or neck can all cause headaches. Genetics, changing hormones, chronic stress, diet, medications and dehydration can all play a role in causing headaches.

What are the signs and symptoms of Pediatric Musculoskeletal Pain?

  • Aching and stiffness
  • Burning sensations in the muscles
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Muscle spasms or twitches
  • Difficulty moving the affected area
  • Pain that worsens with movement
  • Swelling or redness
  • Cracking or popping sound in the joint
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Soreness or bruising
  • Limp
  • Regressed gross motor skills

How is Pediatric Musculoskeletal Pain diagnosed?

We want to find the source of your child’s pain and understand how it’s impacting their life as quickly as possible. First, we’ll talk to you and your child to learn as much as we can about their pain. Then we’ll do a physical exam to evaluate their range of motion, strength and flexibility. We’ll check for swelling and tenderness, and look for symptoms of an underlying illness.

Your child’s doctor may order blood tests or imaging tests like CT scans, ultrasounds or X-rays. These tests help us make a diagnosis or rule out what is causing your child’s pain.

Our pediatric specialists are experts in diagnosing babies and toddlers who aren’t yet able to explain what they are feeling. We will do our best to make exams as comfortable as possible.

What causes Pediatric Musculoskeletal Pain?

Musculoskeletal pain can be caused by many things. Sprains, broken bones or dislocations and other injuries are the most common causes of musculoskeletal pain in children. School-aged children who don't properly sit at their desk or whose backpacks don't fit can also develop pain.

If your child has fallen playing sports or another activity, it’s possible that the pain might not appear right away or might increase to be more severe. Children who exercise a lot, are at greater risk for overusing their muscles and joints.

Children who have headaches often have a hard time sleeping and concentrating. They may also feel nauseous.

Medical conditions like juvenile arthritis or scoliosis can also cause pain. Children who have had treatment for cancer or other major medical events often experience musculoskeletal pain. They may experience pain during treatment or during or after treatment, even after being active at home or school.

How is Pediatric Musculoskeletal Pain treated?

How musculoskeletal pain is treated depends on what is causing it. Because each child experiences pain differently, our providers are experts at developing personalized treatment plans that fit your child's needs. Our goal is to provide care and therapies that will ease your child's pain and allow them to recover so they can resume everyday activities. Some of the treatments your child may receive to alleviate their pain include:

  • Physical therapy (PT) or an exercise program focused on muscle stretching and strengthening
  • Occupational therapy (OT)
  • Medications
  • Application of heat and/or cold
  • Anti-inflammatory or steroid injections
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Infusion therapy
  • Massage therapy
  • Counseling
  • Kinesio Taping
  • Soft tissue mobilization
  • Myofascial release
  • Dry Needling

Our rehabilitation medicine and pain experts design treatment plans that work for each child’s physical and developmental abilities. We will do everything we can to integrate things your child already likes – a favorite color, game, book or sport – into their therapy.

For some children and teens, progress can feel slow and be frustrating. Our pain experts can help you provide the social and emotional support your child might need at home or school. We’ll work with you and your child on how to overcome anxiety and feel good about their progress.

Pediatric Musculoskeletal Pain Doctors and Providers

At Children’s Health, we bring together specialists from rehabilitation medicine, psychology and your child’s existing providers to understand their needs and help them feel better quickly.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is musculoskeletal pain common in children?

    Yes. Musculoskeletal pain is one of the most common issues seen by pediatricians and is usually caused by injury, overuse, posture or other conditions.

  • What might signal that my child’s pain could be because of an underlying condition?

    Signs that your child’s pain may be caused by an underlying medical condition include:

    • A fever that won’t go away
    • Bone tenderness
    • Chronic fatigue
    • Joint swelling
    • Morning joint stiffness and pain
    • Muscle weakness or weight loss
    • Pain that gets worse when they rest

    If some or many of these symptoms appear, your child should see a doctor for a complete evaluation.

  • How can I tell if my baby or toddler is having musculoskeletal pain?

    If your child stops doing certain movements, shifts from walking back to crawling or favors one side of their body it could be a sign of musculoskeletal pain.