If your child starts limping, find out if they’ve injured their leg or foot, or stood on something sharp.
Inspect the soles of their feet and in between their toes for a wound or blister.
If your child starts limping, it’s usually a sign of a minor injury such as a sprain. However, if they haven’t had an obvious injury, or there appears to be weakness elsewhere, such as the arms, they may need to be seen by a healthcare professional to look for other possible causes.
Irritable hip (transient synovitis) is a common cause of hip pain and limping in a child. It often occurs after a recent viral illness such as a cold, sore throat, or diarrhoea and vomiting. It is caused by inflammation of the lining of the joint and fluid inside the joint. It is most common in children around five to six years old.
However, irritable hip shares the symptoms of more serious hip conditions, such as septic arthritis (an infection inside the hip). If your child has a fever, they should be seen urgently by a healthcare professional.
Check if your child has any red symptoms:
- Your child is pale, mottled and feels abnormally cold to touch.
- Is going blue around the lips.
- Becomes extremely agitated, confused or very lethargic (difficult to wake).
- Has a fit / seizure.
- Develops a rash that does not disappear with pressure (see the ‘Glass Test’).
- Develops a fever above 38.5°C – how to take your child’s temperature
- Possible broken bone.
Actions to take if your child has any red symptoms
- Your child may require emergency treatment.
- You should call 999 or take them to your NEAREST Emergency Department where they can be assessed.
If there are no red symptoms, check if your child has any amber symptoms:
- Your child is unable to put any weight on their leg.
- Is no better after 48 hours.
Options if your child has any amber symptoms
Your child does not need to be taken to the Emergency Department immediately, but you should seek medical advice today.
- ring your GP surgery during their usual opening hours
- contact the out of hours GP if the surgery is closed
If symptoms continue for four hours or more and you have not been able to speak to your GP or the out of hours GP, consider going to your nearest Emergency Department.
If your child develops any of the red symptoms above, go to your nearest Emergency Department.
Your child continues to have pain / limp that is slowly improving but they are otherwise well.
If no red or amber symptoms are present:
- your child does not seem to have any symptoms of serious illness or injury
- you can get general advice on the NI Direct website or from your local pharmacy
If your child develops any of the red or amber symptoms above, follow the advice in these sections.
How you can help manage your child’s limp at home
- NI Direct has further information and advice on limp in a child.
- Give your child regular ibuprofen for a few days. You can also give paracetamol to help with the pain.
- 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.
- 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 seven days, you should arrange an appointment at your GP surgery.
- If it is non-urgent, speak to your local pharmacist or health visitor.
- Alternatively, you can contact your GP practice and a qualified member of the clinical team will check whether your child needs to be seen urgently. Out of hours GP details are available here.
- You should only call 999 or go your nearest Emergency Department in critical or life-threatening situations.
- See our section: How does the Children’s Emergency Department Work?