Childhood Weight Affects Bone and Joint Health

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It’s Bone and Joint Health National Awareness Week, but don’t just think it’s the elderly that suffer from these painful issues. Kids do, too, but we can prevent it by simply monitoring their diet.

A global epidemic of childhood obesity can have a devastating impact on a child's musculoskeletal system, the US Bone and Joint Initiative (USBJI) says. Because healthy bones and joints are the building blocks of a healthy body, when extra weight stresses growing bones it can cause pain and interfere with normal childhood growth and development.  

Jesus Retana of Los Angeles, California was a heavy child even as a 6-year-old. By age 11, the growth plate of his upper thigh bone could no longer withstand the stress his extra weight created.  After several months of hip pain Jesus was diagnosed with slipped capital femoral epiphysis (SCFE).  This condition arises when the round portion of the hip separates from the shaft of the thigh bone.  "It is similar to a scoop of ice cream getting shoved off the cone," explained Dr. Anthony Scaduto, orthopaedic surgeon at Los Angeles Orthopaedic Hospital.

According to the CDC, more than 1/3 of children in the U.S. are either overweight or obese.   "The incidence of SCFE has more than doubled in our hospital over the last 20 years," said Dr. Scaduto.   "Jesus' case is an example of how obesity in childhood can lead to serious and potentially life-long musculoskeletal problems," added Dr. Scaduto. "His rehabilitation will include physical therapy and a specialized weight-loss program focusing on his diet."

Twelve-year-old Zeshan Askari had limped and experienced intermittent left knee pain for several months before he was diagnosed SCFE.  Patients with SCFE often have symptoms at the knee according to Dr. Howard Epps, the pediatric orthopaedic surgeon in Houston who cared for Zeshan. "Problems in the hip can cause pain anywhere from the hip down to the knee, and unfortunately this can lead to delayed diagnosis when doctors just focus on the knee," Epps explained.  "I had no idea that knee pain meant he had a problem with his hip," said Asiya Askari, Zeshan's mother.

"When the diagnosis is made later, children with SCFE have more significant deformity of the hip," said Dr. Epps.  "We are really trying to monitor the types of foods that Zeshan eats because we know his weight is a problem," said Ali Askari, Zeshan's father.  "Exercise will be an important part of Zeshan's weight loss program," Epps added, "but we need to get his hips healed first."

Given the importance of early surgery, the US Bone and Joint Initiative is emphasizing early recognition of slipped capital femoral epiphysis.

For more information, visit www.usbjd.org/rd/?NAW.