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 also can result from standing too long, which puts constant pressure on the heel. Poor-fitting shoes can contribute to the condition by not providing enough support or padding for the feet or by rubbing against the back of the heel. Although Sever’s disease can occur in any child, these conditions increase the chances of it happening, pronated foot (a foot that rolls in at the ankle when walking), which causes tightness and twisting of the Achilles tendon, thus increasing its pull on the heel’s growth plate, flat or high arch, which affects the angle of the heel within the foot, causing tightness and shortening of the Achilles tendon, short leg syndrome (one leg is shorter than the other), which causes the foot on the short leg to bend downward to reach the ground, pulling on the Achilles tendon, overweight or obesity, which puts weight-related pressure on the growth plate.
Pain is reproduced through a gentle squeeze of the back of the heel. Children may present with a limp or ?Bouncy gait?. Pain is worse barefoot and often present in the mornings and post exercise. The pain is located at the back of the heel, with localized swelling of the area.
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
The immediate goal of treatment is pain relief. Because symptoms generally worsen with activity, the main treatment for Sever’s disease is rest, which helps to relieve pressure on the heel bone, decreasing swelling and reducing pain. As directed by the doctor, a child should cut down on or avoid all activities that cause pain until all symptoms are gone, especially running barefoot or on hard surfaces because hard impact on the feet can worsen pain and inflammation. The child might be able to do things that do not put pressure on the heel, such as swimming and biking, but check with a doctor first. The doctor might also recommend that a child with Sever’s disease perform foot and leg exercises to stretch and strengthen the leg muscles and tendons, elevate and apply ice (wrapped in a towel, not applied directly to the skin) to the injured heel for 20 minutes two or three times per day, even on days when the pain is not that bad, to help reduce swelling, use an elastic wrap or compression stocking that is designed to help decrease pain and swelling, take an over-the-counter medicine to reduce pain and swelling, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). Children should not be given aspirin for pain due to the risk of a very serious illness called Reye syndrome. In very severe cases, the doctor might recommend that the child wear a cast for anywhere from 2 to 12 weeks to immobilize the foot so that it can heal.
To reduce the risk of heel pain or sore heels from Sever?s Disease. Only wear properly fitting shoes. A lace up shoe with a firm heel counter. Stretch calf and foot before exercising or playing sports. Properly taping the foot provides excellent protection and immediate pain relief. Wear shoe inserts or an over-the-counter orthotic. If the problem persists, consult your foot doctor.