Child & Adolescent Heel Pain (Sever’s Disease)
As a parent, you know that there is no way to guarantee your children won’t suffer occasional bumps, bruises, and injuries. You do your best to protect them, but accidents do happen, and you try to prepare yourself.
But what if the injury your child suffers isn’t something simple and easy to understand, like a cut or an ingrown toenail? What if the issue is heel pain that just doesn’t seem to go away, or flares up at every game or practice?
Do not underestimate heel pain in kids! This is a condition that requires attention from a professional. It is not a good idea for your child to play through sustained pain.
Most heel pain in children is related to a condition known as Sever’s disease. Although the majority of these cases will heal on their own, sustained and prolonged pain is an indication that medical attention is needed. We need to make sure there is not a more serious condition occurring, and prevent more severe injury to the growth center of the heel bone.
Why Do My Child’s Heels Hurt?
Although kids can develop more “adult” forms of heel pain such as plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinitis, they are most likely to be suffering from a condition known as Sever’s disease.
During childhood and adolescence, the end of the heel bone is capped by a “growth plate,” a section of softer tissue (cartilage) that is rapidly forming new bone.
The growth plate isn’t as durable as mature bone, and can be prone to irritation and inflammation if it’s placed under repetitive stress. This could be due to “outside” stresses (such as impacts from running or athletic competition) or “inside” stresses (such as tight tendons or muscles pulling on the heel, or flat feet).
Signs that your child might be suffering from Sever’s disease include:
- Pain in the back of bottom of the heels
- Pain that increases if you squeeze the sides of the heels
- Gait abnormalities such as limping or walking on tip toes
- Sudden difficulty with running, jumping, or keeping up with peers during sports or play
Who Is at Risk of Developing Sever’s Disease?
Teenagers going through growth cycles are at risk for many types of growing pains. As your child’s body changes, he or she may experience soreness in the feet and heels, often because the heel bone is growing faster than the muscles and tendons surrounding it. This aggravates the surrounding tissues, causing swelling, tenderness, and extreme pain in the back of the heel.
Your child may be at risk of developing Sever’s disease if he or she…
- Is under 14 years old. Children who are going through growth spurts are especially likely to develop Sever’s disease. For girls, the condition is most likely to occur between 8 to 10 years of age, while boys are most at risk between 10 to 12 years of age.
- Has increased activity. Sever’s disease usually begins when a child becomes more active, such as starting a new sport or walking increased distances each day. Children whose activities involve jumping and running (such as soccer, basketball, and gymnastics) are more likely to suffer Sever’s disease due to overuse of their Achilles tendon, the long tendon along the back of the heel.
- Has flat feet or low arches. This can cause increased strain on the bottoms of the feet and the Achilles tendon. Stretching before and after physical activity can help relieve discomfort. Focusing on the hamstring, calf muscles, and Achilles tendons in particular can relieve symptoms and aid recovery.
- Wears improper shoe gear. If your child’s shoes don’t fit properly, lack sufficient arch support or heel cushioning, or just aren’t appropriate for the activities he or she is engaged in, the heels can be subjected to extra forces.
How Long Will My Child Suffer From Heel Pain?
The effects of Sever’s disease will depend on the extent of the condition. In many cases, children will recover in a few weeks—however, it is vital that your child rests their feet in order to recover fully. Minor cases will resolve with only slight restrictions of activity. However, if this is not the case for your child, it is vital to seek professional help.
If your child is not recovering quickly with these recommendations, we strongly advise that you call us to schedule an appointment for you and your child. At Sierra Foot & Ankle, we can help determine the cause of your child’s heel injury and devise a treatment to get them back on their feet as quickly as possible.
Sometimes rest really is all that will be needed. However, based on our evaluation of your child’s condition (and its root causes), we may recommend additional therapies such as:
- Specific stretches and exercises to relieve tension and pain in the supporting tissues.
- Shoe inserts or orthotics to offload pressure on the heels or correct an abnormality.
- Temporary use of icing or medications to control pain and swelling.
- Immobilization (such as a cast or walking boot), which is typically only necessary in the most extreme cases.
If your child’s heels are hurting and keeping them from enjoying their activities to their full potential, please contact us right away. Our podiatrist and staff will make every effort to see your child at our office in Carson City as soon as possible. Call us today at (775) 783-8037 or fill out our quick appointment request form to have our staff contact you.