Open a PDF version to print this topic

HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Limping in children

Totitoti ki ngā tamariki

At one time or another, all tamariki (children) will limp for a while. Limping means a tamaiti (child) cannot walk normally but can still hobble around.

If your tamaiti child refuses to walk or put any weight on a leg, this is not limping. You should immediately take them to see their general practice team or to the Emergency Department.

Usually limping happens because of a minor injury, and will get better by itself.

But if the limp lasts for longer than three days, it's important to take your tamaiti to see their general practice team, to find out what is causing it.

If they have a fever or are a lot of pain with a limp, you should take them to see their general practice team as soon as possible.

Causes of limping in children

A boy has injured himself in a bike accidentThe two most common causes of limping are minor injuries and irritable hip (transient synovitis).

Minor injury

Injuries in tamariki children are usually obvious, but if your tamaiti continues to limp for more than three days after an injury, they may have a broken bone (fracture). Take them to their general practice team to get checked.

Irritable hip

Irritable hip (transient synovitis) is also a common cause of limp in tamariki. This can cause pain in their hip, groin, thigh or knee, usually on one side only.

Irritable hip is caused by inflammation of the hip joint. We do not know exactly what causes the inflammation, but your tamaiti may have recently been unwell with a viral infection (virus), which causes inflammation.

This is not a serious condition, and usually gets better by itself. But you should take your tamaiti to see their general practice team, to check they do not have something more serious, like a bacterial joint infection.


Occasionally the bones and joints of a tamaiti can get a bacterial infection, which can cause septic arthritis, osteomyelitis (os-tee-my-el-it-is), or discitis. Discitis is an infection in the disc spaces of your child's spine

Other causes

Perthes disease, Slipped upper femoral epiphysis (SUFE), and tumours are less common causes of limping, but they can be serious.

Diagnosing limping in children

It can be hard to diagnose what is causing a limp in a tamaiti, as the pain could be coming from several different places – their foot, leg, hip, or back. Also, tamariki often cannot describe where or how it hurts, and sometimes will continue playing even though they're in pain. That is why it's important to take your tamaiti to see a GP if they have a limp that is not going away.

The general practice team will ask you questions about the limp, any other medical issues your tamaiti has, what they have been doing recently, and overall health. They will also ask if there are any joint conditions in your family, and they will examine your tamaiti.

Your tamaiti may need some tests, such as X-rays or blood tests, to find out what is causing their limp. Their GP may refer them to see an orthopaedic (bone) surgeon or a paediatrician (a doctor who specialises in treating children), but most tamariki do not need this.

Treating limping in children

Treatment depends on what is causing the limp. Generally, tamariki heal very well and often they will get better on their own, without any further treatment. The GP who cares for your tamaiti will talk with you about any treatment they may need.

Helping your child with limping

If your tamaiti has had a minor injury, there are several things you can do to help.

Your tamaiti may need simple pain relief. Make sure they take it regularly until they are comfortable, but never give them more than the recommended dose for their weight.

For the first 24 to 48 hours after they start limping, apply ice to the painful area every two to four hours, for 20 minutes at a time. This helps to ease the pain and reduce any swelling. Wrap the ice in a damp towel or cloth – do not apply it directly to the skin of your tamaiti or you could cause an ice burn.

Encourage your tamaiti to rest and avoid doing anything that makes the limp worse.

Getting help with limping in children

You should take your tamaiti back to your general practice team or the clinic they were treated at if:

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed June 2022.


Page reference: 391779

Review key: HIBOW-85151