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.
The condition generally occurs in active children at early adolescence during rapid growth periods as the heel bone can grow faster than the leg muscles causing them to become tight and overstretched. Sever?s disease most often caused by inadequate footwear, playing sport on hard surfaces, calf tightness and biomechanical problems.
Children aged between 8 to 13 years of age can experience Sever?s disease with girls being normally younger and boys slightly older. Sever?s disease normally involves the back of the heel bone becoming painful towards the end of intense or prolonged activity and can remain painful after the activity for a few hours. Severe cases can result in limping and pain that can even remain the next morning after sport.
Your Podiatrist or Physiotherapist will assist in diagnosing the injury and the extent of the damage. From this, they will develop a management plan which may include rest or activity modification, soft tissue treatment such as massage and stretching, correction of biomechanics through heel raises or orthoses and the progression through a series of specific strengthening exercises.
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.
For children with Sever’s disease, it is important to habitually perform exercises to stretch the hamstrings, calf muscles, and the tendons on the back of the leg. Stretching should be performed 2-3 times a day. Each stretch should be performed for 20 seconds, and both legs should be stretched, even if the pain is only in one heel. Heel cups or an inner shoe heel lifts are often recommended for patient suffering from Sever’s disease. Wearing running shoes with built in heel cups can also decrease the symptoms because they can help soften the impact on the heel when walking, running, or standing.