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.
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 symptoms of Sever?s Disease may vary but usually include generalised pain and discomfort around the back of the heel. Can be one sided or both sides. Starts after child starts a new sport season. May cause child to limp due to pain. Increases with weight bearing activity. Heel becomes red and can be swollen. X-rays are usually inconclusive and simply show the growth plate.
A doctor can usually tell that a child has Sever's disease based on the symptoms reported. To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor will probably examine the heels and ask about the child's activity level and participation in sports. The doctor might also use the squeeze test, squeezing the back part of the heel from both sides at the same time to see if doing so causes pain. The doctor might also ask the child to stand on tiptoes to see if that position causes pain. Although imaging tests such as X-rays generally are not that helpful in diagnosing Sever's disease, some doctors order them to rule out other problems, such as fractures. Sever's disease cannot be seen on an X-ray.
Non Surgical Treatment
Occasionally, an orthotic may need to be prescribed for temporary or long-term correction of their foot biomechanics (eg flat feet or high arches). During the acute phase of Sever's disease a small heel rise or shock-absorbing heel cup placed under the heel pad of your child's foot may help to ease the symptoms. Your podiatrist or physiotherapist can assess your child's arch and guide you in the best management of your child's condition. We recommend that your child should never go barefooted during the painful stages of Sever's disease.
If the child has a pronated foot, a flat or high arch, or another condition that increases the risk of Sever's disease, the doctor might recommend special shoe inserts, called orthotic devices, such as heel pads that cushion the heel as it strikes the ground, heel lifts that reduce strain on the Achilles tendon by raising the heel, arch supports that hold the heel in an ideal position. If a child is overweight or obese, the doctor will probably also recommend weight loss to decrease pressure on the heel. The risk of recurrence goes away on its own when foot growth is complete and the growth plate has fused to the rest of the heel bone, usually around age 15.