A common cause of heel pain in growing adolescents, particularly those that are actively participating in sport is a condition known as Severs disease. While the suggestion of a ?disease? to your child may conjure up images of a life threatening disorder crippling your child, Severs disease is not nearly so sinister and can be easily fixed.
Growth plates, also called epiphyseal plates, occur at the end of long bones in children who are still growing. These plates are at either end of growing bones, and are the place where cartilage turns into bone. As children grow, these plates eventually become bone (a process called ossification). During a growth spurt, the bone in the heel may outpace the growth of the muscles and tendons that are attached to the heel, such as the Achilles tendon. During weight bearing, the muscles and tendons begin to tighten, which in turn puts stress on the growth plate in the heel. The heel is not very flexible, and the constant pressure on it begins to cause the symptoms of Sever?s disease. Sever?s disease is common, and it does not predispose a child to develop any other diseases or conditions in the leg, foot, or heel. It typically resolves on its own.
Patients with Severs disease typically experience pain that develops gradually in the back of the heel or Achilles region. In less severe cases, patients may only experience an ache or stiffness in the heel that increases with rest (especially at night or first thing in the morning). This typically occurs following activities which require strong or repetitive contraction of the calf muscles, such as running (especially uphill) or during sports involving running, jumping or hopping. The pain associated with this condition may also warm up with activity in the initial stages of the condition. As the condition progresses, patients may experience symptoms that increase during activity and affect performance. Pain may also increase when performing a calf stretch or heel raise (i.e. rising up onto tip toes). In severe cases, patients may walk with a limp, have difficulty putting their heel down, or be unable to weight bear on the affected leg. Pain may also increase on firmly touching the affected region and occasionally a bony lump may be palpable or visible at the back of the heel. This condition typically presents gradually overtime and can affect either one or both lower limbs.
To diagnose the cause of the child?s heel pain and rule out other more serious conditions, the foot and ankle surgeon obtains a thorough medical history and asks questions about recent activities. The surgeon will also examine the child?s foot and leg. X-rays are often used to evaluate the condition. Other advanced imaging studies and laboratory tests may also be ordered.
Non Surgical Treatment
Depending on the diagnosis and the severity of the pain, there a number of treatment options available. Rest, reduce activity, your child should reduce or stop any activity that causes pain, such as sports and running. This can be a difficult option, as children are normally quite willful in pursuit of their favorite pastimes. Over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen (found in Nurofen), to help reduce pain and inflammation. Make certain your child does stretching exercises before play. This will often help reduce the stress on the fascia and relieve heel pain in your child. Orthotic insoles. Orthotics made for children will help support the foot properly, and help prevent over-pronation or improper gait by supporting your child?s foot into a proper biomechanical position. Do not hesitate to schedule an appointment with a podiatrist, should your child?s heel and foot pain persist.
Sever's disease may be prevented by maintaining good joint and muscle flexibility in the years leading up to, and during, their growth spurts (eg girls 8 to 10, boys 10 to 12). Foot arch problems such as flat feet should be addressed after the age of five if they don't appear to be self-correcting. If you are concerned, please ask your health practitioner. The most important factor is the amount of weight-bearing exercise your child is currently performing. Finally, LISTEN To Your Child! If your child is suffering heel pain between the ages of 8 to 12, suspect Sever's disease until proven otherwise. Seek the professional opinion of your foot practitioner regarding its diagnosis and subsequent management.