We often see kids at Prairie Path Foot and Ankle Clinic for heel pain. Moms and Dads usually become worried when their child complains of pain or doesn't want to play or participate in sports. Heel pain in children is NOT normal! This is not a normal part of growth.
So just what is it?
The most common cause of heel pain in kids is disturbance of the growth plate to the heel bone (calcaneus) where the Achilles Tendon attaches to the foot. This is know as Sever's Disease or Calcaneal Apophysitis...which is just a fancy way of saying the heel growth plate is inflamed.
Who gets it?
It is common in children between the ages of 10-14 but I have seen cases as early as 8. It all depends on when the growth plate starts to calcify. It affects boys slightly more than girls. The most common kids I see are young athletes and seems to have a higher incidence in those who play sports where spikes are worn (baseball, soccer, football).
What are the Symptoms?
Pain is usually felt at the back and side of the heel bone. Sometimes there may be pain at the bottom of the heel or up the Achilles tendon. The pain is usually relieved with rest and aggravated with activity and sports. Squeezing the sides of the heel bone is often painful. It can even lead to limping.
How to treat it?
If your child has calcaneal apophysitis, the following is suggested:
1- Cut back on sporting activities - don't stop, just slow down for a while until symptoms improve (if the condition has been present for a while, a total break from sport may be needed later)
2- Avoid going barefoot -wear good supportive shoes at all times, even in the house.
3- A heel lift or arch support is very important, some children even need custom made orthotics if the problem becomes persistent.
4-Decrease the inflammation - We typically use ice for 10 minutes 3-4 times per day. In some cases we also need to place the child on a short course of anti-inflammatory medication.
5-Stretching the calf muscles and sometime Physical therapy are used once the inflammation has decreased.
6- In rare cases, we need to immobilize the child in a cast boot or actual cast and crutches if the case is very severe and does not respond to other treatments.
The best advice I can give any parent with concern is to see a podiatrist who regularly treats children. It is always better to seek care early as this is the quickest way to resolve your child's pain.