Kids may be resilient, remarkable healers, but they’re by no means indestructible. Their skeletons are still developing, in most cases until their late teens, and that can occasionally lead to problems when an active growth plate takes a little too much abuse. One such condition is Sever’s disease, the most common cause of heel pain among children, particularly active adolescents.
Why Adolescent Kids Have Heel Pain
Sever’s disease is an overuse injury, meaning it occurs from repetitive stress and trauma from activities such as running and jumping on hard surfaces. For adolescents, the growth plate in their heel is still producing new bone, which means it remains “exposed” and especially susceptible to soreness and swelling—especially if the growth in the heel is outpacing growth in leg muscles and tendons.
Once the heel bone has fully developed—usually by the mid to late teens—the growth plate is no longer exposed and Sever’s disease is no longer a problem. However, until that point, active adolescents—particularly those in the midst of a growth spurt—are particularly vulnerable.
How to Tell if Your Child Has Sever’s Disease
If your child complains of foot or heel pain, especially if they’re in their adolescent years, that’s a pretty good indication that they may be suffering from Sever’s disease and need treatment.
Unfortunately, kids don’t always volunteer that information, especially if they’re worried it might keep them away from their friends of teammates. So you’ll need to be on the lookout for some telltale signs. If you notice your child limping, holding back from running and jumping, or walking daintily on their toes, there’s a good chance heel pain is the reason. Additionally, squeezing the sides of your child’s heel may produce a painful sensation.
Finding Relief From Heel Pain
As we said earlier, the good news is that kids are a resilient bunch. As a result, conservative treatments are often effective.
Unfortunately, your little one will need to take a temporary break from whatever activity was producing the pain. Depending on the severity of symptoms, we may recommend some alternative activities to keep your child moving without putting as much pressure on the heel, such as cycling, swimming, or restricting athletic activities to soft surfaces such as grass.
We may also recommend a program of gentle exercises and stretches designed to strengthen leg muscles and keep pain and swelling at a minimum. Additionally, in some cases temporary shoe inserts or modifications such as heel supports may be effective.
In the most severe cases, the foot may need to be immobilized via a cast or walking boot for a period of time to allow undisturbed healing.
Preventing Future Problems
With proper care, cases of Sever’s disease tend to resolve completely within 2-8 weeks—the earlier you seek treatment, the faster recovery tends to go. However, until the heel bone has stopped growing, your child may be susceptible to a reoccurrence of the problem.
The best way to prevent the condition from returning is by ensuring your child always has a good pair of shoes that fits correctly, supports and cushions the arch, and protects the heel. Kids’ feet grow fast, so keep checking every couple of months or so to make sure their shoes are still right for their feet.
For kids with other foot problems, such as high arches or overpronation, additional preventative measure may be recommended. We’ll be able to provide guidance after examining your child’s feet.
Take your little one seriously when he or she complains of heel pain. Dr. Keith McSpadden at North Austin Foot & Ankle Institute is an expert in diagnosing and treating Sever’s disease, and can help your child get back to running, jumping, and playing pain free as quickly as possibly using gentle, conservative care. To set up an appointment at our Cedar Park or Round Rock offices, give us a call at 512-593-2949.