Heel pain can also occur in children, most commonly between ages 8 and 15, as they become increasingly active in sports activity in and out of school. This physical activity, particularly jumping, inflames the growth centers of the heels, also known as the apopyhsis. The more active the child, the more likely the condition will occur. Your doctor may also describe the condition as Sever’s Disease or calcaneal apophysitis.
The heel bone grows faster than the ligaments in the leg. As a result, muscles and tendons can become very tight and overstretched in children who are going through growth spurts. The heel is especially susceptible to injury since the foot is one of the first parts of the body to grow to full size and the heel area is not very flexible. Sever?s disease occurs as a result of repetitive stress on the Achilles tendon. Over time, this constant pressure on the already tight heel cord can damage the growth plate, causing pain and inflammation. Such stress and pressure can result from sports that involve running and jumping on hard surfaces (track, basketball and gymnastics). Standing too long, which puts constant pressure on the heel. Poor-fitting shoes that don?t provide enough support or padding for the feet. Overuse or exercising too much can also cause Sever?s disease.
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.
All medical diagnosis should be made by taking a full history, examining the patient then performing investigations. The problem usually occurs in boys who are going through or have just gone through a growth spurt; one or both heels may be affected. Initially the pain may be intermittent occurring only during or after exercise. As the problem gets worse, pain may be present most of the time. There may be swelling over the back of the heel and this area is painful if touched or knocked. On examination the patient often has flat feet, very tight legs muscles especially the gastrocnemius.
Non Surgical Treatment
Management consists of explanation of what’s happening and advice on activity modification to get it to settle. Icing after activity and heating during breaks in activity also often help. Local treatment with electrotherapy may be indicated in the acute stage or to help settle pain for a specific activity/competition. Stretches will be advised and the child may require orthotics to control foot position. A heel raise or heel cups may also help. Strapping may be of some benefit. The mainstay of treatment however is the icing and activity modification and reassurance that the condition is self-limiting, this may take up to 2 years.
The surgeon may select one or more of the following options to treat calcaneal apophysitis. Reduce activity. The child needs to reduce or stop any activity that causes pain. Support the heel. Temporary shoe inserts or custom orthotic devices may provide support for the heel. Medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, help reduce the pain and inflammation. Physical therapy. Stretching or physical therapy modalities are sometimes used to promote healing of the inflamed issue. Immobilization. In some severe cases of pediatric heel pain, a cast may be used to promote healing while keeping the foot and ankle totally immobile. Often heel pain in children returns after it has been treated because the heel bone is still growing. Recurrence of heel pain may be a sign of calcaneal apophysitis, or it may indicate a different problem. If your child has a repeat bout of heel pain, be sure to make an appointment with your foot and ankle surgeon.