Open Access Open Badges Research article

Care-seeking behaviour of adolescents with knee pain: a population-based study among 504 adolescents

Michael S Rathleff12*, Sune K Skuldbøl3, Mads N B Rasch3, Ewa M Roos4, Sten Rasmussen2 and Jens L Olesen3

  • * Corresponding author: Michael S Rathleff

Author Affiliations

1 Health, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark

2 Orthopaedic Surgery Research Unit, Aalborg University Hospital, Aalborg, Denmark

3 Department of Rheumatology, Aalborg University Hospital, Aalborg, Denmark

4 Institute of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2013, 14:225  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-14-225

Published: 30 July 2013



Knee pain is common during adolescence. Adolescents and their parents may think that knee pain is benign and self-limiting and therefore avoid seeking medical care. However, long-term prognosis of knee pain is not favourable and treatment seems to offer greater reductions in pain compared to a “wait-and-see” approach. The purpose of this study was to describe the determinants of care-seeking behaviour among adolescents with current knee pain and investigate what types of treatment are initiated.


An online questionnaire was forwarded to 2,846 adolescents aged 15–19 in four upper secondary schools. The questionnaire contained questions on age, gender, height, weight, currently painful body regions, frequency of knee pain, health-related quality of life measured by the EuroQol 5-dimensions, sports participation and if they had sought medical care. Adolescents who reported current knee pain at least monthly or more frequently were telephoned. The adolescents were asked about pain duration, onset of knee pain (traumatic or insidious) and if they were currently being treated for their knee pain.


504 adolescents currently reported at least monthly knee pain. 59% of these had sought medical care and 18% were currently under medical treatment . A longer pain duration and higher pain severity increased the odds of seeking medical care. Females with traumatic onset of knee pain were more likely to have sought medical care than females with insidious onset of knee pain. Females with traumatic onset of knee pain and increased pain severity were more likely to be undergoing medical treatment. The most frequently reported treatments were the combination of exercises and orthotics (68% of those undergoing medical treatment).


Females with insidious onset of knee pain do not seek medical care as often as those with traumatic onset and adolescents of both genders with insidious onset are less likely to be under medical treatment. These findings are important as knee pain with insidious onset has similar consequences as knee pain with traumatic onset regarding pain severity, pain duration and reductions in health-related quality of life.

Adolescents; Knee pain; Care-seeking; Treatment