Limping is fairly common in children and is often caused by an obvious injury to leg or foot.  In most children, limping is caused by a mild, self-limiting event, such as strain, or sprain, blister cut or bruise. Sometimes, it could be a broken bone secondary to a fall.

Sometimes it is not clear as to what’s causing your child to limp. A limp with no obvious cause should always be checked out by a healthcare professional as it could be a sign of somethings serious.  In some cases, however, a limp can be a sign of a serious or even life-threatening condition.

Irritable hip is a common cause of hip pain and limping in a child. It often occurs after a recent viral illness such as cold, sore throat or diarrhoea/ vomiting and is caused by inflammation of the lining of the joint and fluid inside the joint. Its peak age of onset is 5/6 years.

Irritable hip shares the symptoms of more serious hip conditions such as septic arthritis (an infection inside hip) and if you child has fever, they should be seen urgently by a healthcare professional.

Do not self -diagnose- a limp with no obvious cause should always be checked by a healthcare professional as it could be a sign of something serious.


When should you worry?

If your child has any of the following:

  • your child gets sudden pain in their hip, knee or thigh (hip problems can sometimes be felt in the thigh or knee)
  • If you think your child has broken a bone
  • the leg has changed shape or is pointing at an odd angle
  • your child feels generally unwell and has a high temperature or feels hot and shivery
  • your child also has severe pain in the lower part of their tummy
  • your child's symptoms get worse

You need urgent help

Go to the nearest Hospital Emergency (A&E) Department or phone 999

If your child has any of the following:

  • Is unable to put any weight on their leg
  • Is no better after 48 hours
  • Develops a fever above 38.5°C

You need to contact a doctor or nurse today

Please ring your GP surgery or call NHS 111 - dial 111


If your child continues to have pain/limp that is slowly improving but he/she is otherwise well

Additional advice is also available to young families for coping with crying of well babies – click here

Self care

Continue providing your child’s care at home. If you are still concerned about your child, call NHS 111 – dial 111

What should you do?

Give your child regular ibuprofen for a few days. You can also give paracetamol to help with the pain. Pain can be varying in intensity and it is useful to understand how much pain your child is in and response to medicines ( Ibuprofen, Paracetamol) to help decide whether you need to seek help. Pain can be varying. You know your child best and consider seeking help sooner if you are concerned.

Mild Pain

  • comes and goes
  • is annoying but does not stop you doing daily activities

Moderate pain:

  • always there
  • makes it hard to concentrate or sleep
  • you can manage to get up, wash or dress

Severe pain:

  • always there and so bad it's hard to think or talk
  • you cannot sleep
  • it's very hard to move, get out of bed, go to the bathroom, wash or dress

If your child's pain is severe, please seek immediate medical attention and provide pain relief.

Your child should rest as much as possible until the symptoms have resolved. You can then allow your child to gradually return to their usual activities

How long will will it take for your child to get better?

  • Your child should start getting better within a couple of days.
  • If they are no better within 48 hours, or not back to normal within 7 days, you should arrange for them to be assessed by your GP surgery.

Treatment will depend on what's causing the your child to limp.  Sometimes it may get better on its own.  A healthcare professional will examine your child and may arrange more tests to find out what's causing your child to limp. 

They will give advice on how to treat this sprain or strain at home such as rest and taking paracetamol or ibuprofen.  They may also refer your child to hospital for further tests like an x-ray or for a specialist opinion.

For more information on Limp, click here

Where should you seek help?

Health visitors are nurses or midwives who are passionate about promoting healthy lifestyles and preventing illness through the delivery of the Healthy Child Programme. They work with you through your pregnancy up until your child is ready to start school.

Health Visitors can also make referrals for you to other health professionals for example hearing or vision concerns or to the Community Paediatricians or to the child and adolescent mental health services.

Contact them by phoning your Health Visitor Team or local Children’s Centre.

Sound advice

Health visitors also provide advice, support and guidance in caring for your child, including:

  • Breastfeeding, weaning and healthy eating
  • Exercise, hygiene and safety
  • Your child’s growth and development
  • Emotional health and wellbeing, including postnatal depression
  • Safety in the home
  • Stopping smoking
  • Contraception and sexual health
  • Sleep and behaviour management (including temper tantrums!)
  • Toilet training
  • Minor illnesses

For more information watch the video: What does a health visitor do?

School nurses care for children and young people, aged 5-19, and their families, to ensure their health needs are supported within their school and community. They work closely with education staff and other agencies to support parents, carers and the children and young people, with physical and/or emotional health needs.

Contacting the School Nurse

Primary and secondary schools have an allocated school nurse – telephone your child’s school to ask for the contact details of your named school nurse.

There is also a specialist nurse who works with families who choose to educate their children at home.

Sound Advice

Before your child starts school your health visitor will meet with the school nursing team to transfer their care to the school nursing service. The school nursing team consists of a school nursing lead, specialist public health practitioners and school health staff nurses.

They all have a role in preventing disease and promoting health and wellbeing, by:-

  • encouraging healthier lifestyles
  • offering immunisations
  • giving information, advice and support to children, young people and their families
  • supporting children with complex health needs

Each member of the team has links with many other professionals who also work with children including community paediatricians, child and adolescent mental health teams, health visitors and speech and language therapists. The school health nursing service also forms part of the multi-agency services for children, young people and families where there are child protection or safeguarding issues.

If you’re not sure which NHS service you need, call 111. An adviser will ask you questions to assess your symptoms and then give you the advice you need, or direct you straightaway to the best service for you in your area.

Sound advice

Use NHS 111 if you are unsure what to do next, have any questions about a condition or treatment or require information about local health services.

For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?

A&E departments provide vital care for life-threatening emergencies, such as loss of consciousness, suspected heart attacks, breathing difficulties, or severe bleeding that cannot be stopped. If you’re not sure it’s an emergency, call 111 for advice.

Sound advice

  1. Many visits to A&E and calls to 999 could be resolved by any other NHS services.
  2. If your child's condition is not critical, choose another service to get them the best possible treatment.
  3. Help your child to understand – watch this video with them about going to A&E or riding in an ambulance

Page last updated on: 30th March 2023