Unlike adults, heel pain is very uncommon in children. When children do experience heel pain, it is highly likely to be caused by a disturbance to the growth plate in the backof the heel bone (calcaneus), where the Achilles tendon attaches to the heel. This disturbance is known as Sever?s disease or calcaneal apophysitis (inflammation of the growth plate). Sever?s disease is most common between the ages of 10 and 14 years, and it is one of several different ?osteochondroses? that may occur in other parts of the body, such as at the knee, such as Osgood-Schlatters Disease. This condition occurs in children because they are still growing and their bodies harbor many ?growth plates?. A growth plate, also called an epiphyseal plate, is an area at the end of a developing bone where cartilage cells change over time into bone cells. As this occurs, the growth plates expand and unite, which is how bones grow.
The exact cause of Severs disease is not completely understood. It is thought to be associated with an overuse type injury, in which repetitive stress from the Achilles tendon causes a portion of the growth plate to pull away from the heel. In medical terms, this is described as cyclic, micro-avulsion type fractures to the calcaneal apophyses.
Adolescents suffering from Sever?s disease usually complain of pain at the back of their heel which is often worse after exercising. It is most common between the ages of 10-12 in boys and 8-10 in girls due to the rapid growth spurts that occur during this time. It can however happen anytime up until the age of 15. Whilst most people present with pain worse in one foot, it is very common to have symptoms in both feet.
You may have pain when your doctor squeezes your heel bone. You may have pain when asked to stand or walk on your toes or on your heels. You may have pain in your heel when your doctor stretches your calf muscles. Your doctor may order x-rays of the injured foot to show an active growth plate.
Non Surgical Treatment
Podiatrists have an important role in the provision of orthotics to young sufferers of Severs? disease. Orthotics are specialised insoles designed to accommodate problems with the foot. In this particular condition?s case, orthotics are an effective way of making sure that the heel is cushioned in such a way as to reduce a child?s discomfort and alleviate some of the pressure of walking, thereby facilitating the recovery process. Young athletes can benefit from a visit to a podiatrist to learn about prevention and to have orthotics fitted to prevent Severs? disease from developing. Regular stretching to keep joints supple and loose are a great preventative measure, as is making sure that appropriately fitted and supportive shoes (often equipped with orthotics) are used to prevent future injury.
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.