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.
Your child?s heel bone keeps forming new bone until the late teens. The new bone is weak and can be damaged by running or pounding on hard surfaces, like during a basketball game. The new bone may also be irritated by shoes with poor padding in the heels or poor arch supports.
The typical clinical presentation is an active child (aged 9-10 years) who complains of pain at the posterior heel that is made worse by sports, especially those involving running or jumping. The onset is usually gradual. Often, the pain has been relieved somewhat with rest and consequently has been patiently monitored by the patient, parents, coaches, trainers, and family physicians, in the expectation that it will resolve. When the pain continues to interfere with sports performance and then with daily activities, further consultation is sought. It should be kept in mind that failure to instruct patients and parents that continual pain, significant swelling or redness, and fever are not signs of Sever disease and therefore require further evaluation could result in failure to diagnose a condition with much more serious long-term consequences.
Sever condition is diagnosed by detecting the characteristic symptoms and signs above in the older children, particularly boys between 8 and 15 years of age. Sometimes X-ray testing can be helpful as it can occasionally demonstrate irregularity of the calcaneus bone at the point where the Achilles tendon attaches.
Non Surgical Treatment
Depending on the underlying cause, treatment can include. Arch supports (foot orthoses) to correctly support the feet. Proper taping of the foot and heel. Rest from activities. Icing at the end of the day. A night splint worn at night. Flexibility exercises and strengthening. Ultrasound therapy. Anti-inflammatory drugs.
The best way to prevent Sever's disease is to make sure that your child wears shoes that fit properly. The heel portion of the shoe should not be too tight, and there should be good padding in the heel. It may help to put extra heel pads in your child's shoes. Some children simply get too much physical activity. For example, they may play on too many teams or practice for too long. Their heel pain is a message to slow down.