So when a child starts complaining about heel pain, most parents are understandably concerned. “Why is this happening to my little one? And what can I do about it?”
Although kids are able to develop many of the same heel pain conditions as adults, the most common diagnosis among adolescents is Sever’s disease.
While the name sounds scary, it’s not actually a disease at all, but an overuse injury. And if you seek treatment right away for your little one, it can almost always be treated conservatively and shouldn’t cause long-term problems.
What Is Sever’s Disease?
Sever’s disease refers to inflammation in a region of the heel bone known as the growth plate.
In childhood and adolescence, many bones are capped by growth plates, which are areas of softer cartilage responsible for growing new bone tissue. Because they aren’t as hard as mature bone, they are more susceptible to irritation and injury. And because the growth plate of the heel bone is in an especially vulnerable position, injuries are common.
Common symptoms include:
- Pain beneath the heel that tends to increase during physical activities, such as running and jumping.
- Mild swelling and/or stiffness at the heel
- Pain when the heel is squeezed at the sides
- In severe cases, your child may start limping or walking on tiptoes
What Causes Sever’s Disease?
Caring for Feet at Home
As mentioned above, Sever’s disease is an overuse injury to the growth plate. Children who are at higher-than-average risk include those who:
- Are between the ages of roughly 8 and 14.
- Play sports or have active hobbies, particularly high-impact sports which involve running and jumping.
- Wear shoes that are unsupportive or too tight.
- Are going through a growth spurt. (Sometimes when this happens, the heel bone grows faster than the tendons that attach to it, which can cause painful tugging on the bone.)
- Are overweight or obese.
Sever’s disease is relatively rare in pre-adolescent kids, and nearly unheard of in older teens and adults, once the growth plate has become hardened into mature bone.
How is Sever’s Disease Treated?
While Sever’s disease is a temporary condition that can almost always be managed conservatively, it’s important that you never ignore the signs of heel pain in your child. Failure to care for your child’s Sever’s disease properly will only lead to more pain, and potentially longer-lasting complications down the road.
A typical treatment protocol for Sever’s disease may include:
- Temporarily resting from sports and physical activities, usually for at least a couple of weeks.
- A program of stretches and exercises designed to relieve tension in the calf muscles and Achilles tendons, which may be aggravating the heel bone.
- Making sure your child wears comfortable and supportive shoes.
- Use of heel cups, heel lifts, cushions, orthotic devices, or other shoe inserts. (This is usually temporary, although if your child has more serious foot structure issues contributing to their pain, longer-term use of orthotics may be recommended.)
- Laser therapy to ease pain and accelerate healing.
In most cases, the above or similar solutions are sufficient to alleviate your child’s Sever’s disease within 2-6 weeks. Only in the most serious cases would we recommend more aggressive treatments, such as using a cast or walker boot to protect the heel as it heals—and such cases can almost always be avoided if you bring your child in for evaluation as soon as possible after noticing symptoms.
Get Your Child They Care They Deserve
No parent wants to see a child suffering. While it’s true that your young athlete might not be thrilled about taking a break from sports and physical play, taking action to deal with their heel pain as early as possible will help give them the best chance at a quick, complete recovery and full return to their favorite activities.
To request an appointment with Dr. Dailey and the team at Freeland Foot & Ankle Clinic, give us a call at (989) 695-6788 or complete our online contact form.