Prevalence and incidence of musculoskeletal extremity complaints in children and adolescents. A systematic review

BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2017 Oct 18;18(1):418. doi: 10.1186/s12891-017-1771-2.


Background: It is difficult to gain an overview of musculoskeletal extremity complaints in childhood although this is essential to develop evidence-based prevention and treatment strategies. The objectives of this systematic review were therefore to describe the prevalence and incidence of musculoskeletal extremity complaints in children and adolescents in both general and clinical populations in relation to age, anatomical site and mode of onset.

Methods: MEDLINE and EMBASE were electronically searched; risk of bias was assessed; and data extraction was individually performed by two authors.

Results: In total, 19 general population studies and three clinical population studies were included with children aged 0-19 years. For most of the analyses, a division between younger children aged 0-12 years, and older children aged 10-19 years was used. Lower extremity complaints were more common than upper extremity complaints regardless of age and type of population, with the most frequent pain site changing from ankle/foot in the youngest to knee in the oldest. There were about twice as many non-traumatic as traumatic complaints in the lower extremities, whereas the opposite relationship was found for the upper extremities in the general population studies. There were relatively more lower extremity complaints in the general population studies than in the clinical population studies. The review showed no pattern of differences in reporting between studies of high and low risk of bias.

Conclusions: This review shows that musculoskeletal complaints are more frequent in the lower extremities than in the upper extremities in childhood, and there are indications of a large amount of non-traumatic low intensity complaints in the population that do not reach threshold for consultation. A meta-analysis, or even a simple overall description of prevalence and incidence of musculoskeletal extremity complaints in children and adolescents was not feasible, due to a large variety in the studies, primarily related to outcome measurements.

Keywords: Incidence; Musculoskeletal injury; Musculoskeletal pain; Paediatrics; Prevalence.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Lower Extremity
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Prevalence
  • Upper Extremity