Heel pain is truly a universal problem. Although we often associate the problem mostly with middle-aged and older adults, even children aren’t immune.
That said, heel pain in kids—particularly around adolescent age—usually takes a much different form than in adults. While an adult is likely to be suffering from plantar fasciitis, teens are probably looking at a condition called Sever’s disease instead.
The first thing to know about Sever’s disease is that the name is a bit of a misnomer. Also known as calcaneal apophystis, it’s not a disease at all, but actually an overuse injury that causes inflammation of the heel growth plate as it expands and grows.
Kids’ heels are still growing until around age 14 or 15, and until they finish forming they can still be tender. Active kids who do lots of running, jumping, and playing (say from sports) are thus especially susceptible to the condition, especially if they’re in the middle of a growth spurt. If the heel bone is growing faster than the surrounding tendons and ligaments, it leads to extra tightness in tissues and stress on the heel.
Besides the repetitive stress of sports and being in the right age bracket, additional risk factors include obesity, overpronation, flat feet, and high arches.
How to Detect the Symptoms
Ideally, your child will let you know what’s wrong. The most typical symptom is pain and tenderness in the heel, usually at the back or along the sides. The foot often feels stiff in the morning and will hurt if squeezed on the sides. If pain is severe enough, it might additionally lead to related problems, including difficulty walking normally.
Unfortunately, kids don’t always let on that things are bothering them—especially if they think it’s going to cost them time outside or on the playing field. Keep an eye out for limping, walking gingerly, or unusual gait patterns that might indicate your child is trying to avoid putting pressure on the heel.
Severing the Pain
The good news is that Sever’s disease is a temporary condition that your child will eventually grow out of, and it should leave no long-term effects. However, that’s not much comfort when your heels are crying out in pain!
Treatment is usually conservative and is targeted at relieving symptoms. The No. 1 prescription is rest. Cutting back on physical activities that cause the repetitive trauma—or even taking a complete break for a little while—will help reduce swelling and discomfort and help prevent future pain. Running barefoot on hard surfaces in particular is a definite no-no. To help you youngster burn off some of that excess energy in a way that won’t put undue stress on their feet, we may suggest alternative, low-impact exercises such as bike riding.
Additional, temporary treatments may also be considered depending on the doctor’s evaluation. These might include heel support inserts or custom orthotics to deflect pressure away from sensitive areas, or exercises designed to stretch tight tissues and promote healing. Rest, elevation, ice, and OTC anti-inflammatories (no aspirin!) can be used under our direction during periods of acute pain or swelling.
Let Cincinnati’s Experts Help with Your Child’s Heel Pain
We know how important an active lifestyle and freedom from pain is for your child—and for you. If your adolescent is struggling with painful heels, call Family Foot and Ankle Center. Our trained experts will make a full evaluation and diagnosis and help your son or daughter recover as quickly as possible. To schedule an appointment at one of our six Cincinnati-area offices in Ohio and Kentucky, request an appointment online or call us toll free at 888-689-3317.