Children’s Heel Pain
Heel pain, unfortunately, isn’t exclusively the domain of adults. Kids, and especially adolescents, can develop significant pain and soreness that keeps them from doing the things they love—running, playing sports, enjoying the outdoors.
Unlike their parents, who are more likely to suffer from soft tissue injuries like plantar fasciitis, children’s heel pain more frequently arises from a condition called Sever’s disease. The name is a bit misleading—Sever’s is not actually a disease at all, but an overuse injury to the relatively soft growth plate of the heel bone.
Why Does My Teenager’s Heel Hurt?
At this age, bones are still growing fast. In order to facilitate that growth and quickly get longer, the ends of many bones (including the heel bone) are “capped” by an area of softer cartilage called a growth plate. By the time your child is fully grown and the skeleton fully matured, these growth plates will have sealed themselves behind hard bone. During childhood and adolescence, however, they remain exposed and vulnerable.
The growth plate of the heel is in an especially difficult spot, considering all the weight-bearing, running, jumping, and landing the feet must endure—especially if your child is active with a lot of sports. At the same time, during a growth spurt the heel bone may grow faster than the muscles and tendons connected to it, which puts even more pressure on the growth plate. Over time, this can irritate and damage the growth plate, which is what causes the heel pain.
Other Sever’s Disease Signs and Symptoms
In addition to heel pain, you may notice some of the following signs and symptoms:
- Walking on toes
- Stiffness in the feet, especially during the early morning
- Pain when the heel is squeezed from both sides
- Child hesitates or withdraws from activities they used to enjoy
How Is Heel Pain in Children Treated?
With prompt attention, most cases of Sever’s disease can be resolved within a few weeks, using only conservative treatment options. On the flipside, failing to initiate treatment and allowing your child to continue playing through the pain may lead to more serious consequences, so always be on the safe side.
- This may not be what your teen wants to hear, but rest is often the most important and effective treatment method. Their heels need time away from any activities that cause pain so that it can heal.
- Ice the injury. Do not apply ice directly to the heel—wrap it in a towel first. Go for about 20 minutes, not more than 3 times per day.
- Physical therapy. We’ll show your child foot and leg exercises to perform regularly in order to help with pain and recovery.
- Immobilize the injury. In severe cases, we may need to keep the heel protected inside a cast for a few weeks. This allows the injury to heal in peace.
- Support the heel. This is best accomplished by the temporary use of orthotics. Usually, the right prefabricated insert will do the trick, but in some cases, we may recommend custom orthotics.
Nobody enjoys seeing their little one hobbling or yelping with pain! If your child starts complaining about their heels—or you observe any of the telltale signs—bring him or her in to see Dr. Truong at the Kansas Foot Center in Wichita. You can reach us at (866) 222-5177.