The most common cause of heel pain in children is due to the disturbance or damage of the growth plate at the rear of the heel bone (Calcaneus). This condition is known as Sever?s disease or calcaneal apophysis. It occurs when an increased load is placed on the back of the heel from tension in the calf muscles, causing stress on the cartilaginous joint between the calcaneus and apophysis (growth plate). The condition is self-limiting and will cease when the two parts of the heel bone fuse together, however this may take up to a couple of years in some cases. There is no identified long term complications associated with Sever?s disease. Nevertheless, it is a painful condition that needs treatment when active to reduce pain levels and maintain activity levels of the child until the heel bone fuses into an adult bone.
Sever?s disease is caused by repetitive tension and/or pressure on the growth center of the heel. Running and jumping place a large amount of pressure on the heels and can cause pain. Children with Sever?s may limp or have an altered gait due to the pain. Risk factors for Sever’s include tight calf muscles, weak ankle muscles, and alignment abnormalities at the foot and ankle. Sever?s can also result from wearing shoes without sufficient heel padding or arch support.
The most obvious sign of Sever’s disease is pain or tenderness in one or both heels, usually at the back. The pain also might extend to the sides and bottom of the heel, ending near the arch of the foot. A child also may have these related problems, swelling and redness in the heel, difficulty walking, discomfort or stiffness in the feet upon awaking, discomfort when the heel is squeezed on both sides, an unusual walk, such as walking with a limp or on tiptoes to avoid putting pressure on the heel. Symptoms are usually worse during or after activity and get better with rest.
A Podiatrist can easily evaluate your child?s foot, lower limbs and muscular flexibility, to identify if a problem exists. If a problem is identified, a simple treatment plan is put in place. Initial treatment may involve using temporary padding and strapping to control motion or to cushion the painful area and based on the success of this treatment, a long-term treatment plan will be put in place. This long-term treatment plan may or may not involve Foot Supports, Heel Raises, muscle stretching and or strengthening.
Non Surgical Treatment
Management by a health professional of Sever’s disease is often wise. There are a few very rare problems that may be causing the pain, so a correct diagnosis is extremely important. Advice should be given on all of what is mentioned above, appropriate activity levels, the use of ice, always wearing shoes, heel raises and stretching, follow this advice. As a pronated foot is common in children with this problem, a discussion regarding the use of foot orthotics long term may be important. Strapping or tape is sometimes used during activity to limit the ankle joint range of motion. If the symptoms are bad enough and not responding to these measures, medication to help with anti-inflammatory may be needed. In some cases the lower limb may need to be put in a cast for 2-6 weeks to give it a good chance to heal. After the calcaneal apophysitis resolves, prevention with the use of stretching, good supportive shock absorbing shoe and heel raises are important to prevent it happening again.