pre-teen playing basketball on indoor courtFew things slow kids down—especially kids who love to run, play sports, and be active!

So, as a parent, it can be a shock if you start to hear your child express reluctance to play due to heel pain. In some cases, your child might even hesitate to reveal their problem to you out of fear of having to stop playing—but you can tell something might be wrong by the way they move or changes in behavior.

Heel pain can occur for a number of different reasons, but a particularly common cause among active children between the ages of 8-15 is Sever’s disease, also known as calcaneal apophysitis.

What Is Sever’s Disease?

The term “disease” is an unfortunate misnomer because it commonly evokes the idea of a communicable sickness. If your child has Sever’s disease, they haven’t caught something—it’s simply a type of sports injury a child can experience while growing up. Adolescence is a time of rapid growth. The heel bone (calcaneus) is no exception. An area called the “growth plate” in the lower back of the heel generates new bone during this time and can be more vulnerable as it does so.

If the heel bone grows more rapidly than the tissues that connect to it (muscles, ligaments, and tendons), it can lead to those tissues becoming very tight. As the Achilles tendon bears more stress, the growth plate that it attaches to can become damaged, leading to heel pain.

The more stress the feet and lower legs bear, the more likely it is for Sever’s disease to occur. Risk factors include:

  • Playing sports that involve repetitive impacts on hard surfaces, such as basketball, tennis, running, etc.
  • Standing for extended periods of time, especially on hard surfaces.
  • Pushing one’s body too hard, too fast in activity (which, let’s face it, kids are prone to do)
  • Wearing shoes that do not fit well or are not properly designed to handle the stresses of activities

What Are the Symptoms of Sever’s Disease?

Heel pain is naturally the core symptom of Sever’s disease, but how and when that pain manifests may be unique. Be on the lookout for:

  • Heel pain at its worst during or after activity, perhaps causing limping or difficulty walking
  • Visible redness or swelling in the heel area. Squeezing the area will very likely cause pain
  • Stiffness or discomfort upon waking in the morning or after long periods of inactivity

Communication is key if you suspect your child might be in pain. It is common for a child to try to hide the condition for fear of either going to the doctor or having to sit out from activity. However, it’s important that Sever’s disease be treated properly to prevent extending the time your child suffers from symptoms.

How Is Sever’s Disease Treated?

We can easily diagnose Sever’s disease during a standard physical examination. In some cases, we might ask for an X-ray to rule out the possibility of stress fractures or other types of injuries.

The best treatment for most instances of Sever’s disease will involve a temporary reduction or cessation of activities. The heel bone requires time to heal, and continuing to overstress it will only complicate matters.

That said, we can provide further help to both accelerate recovery and prevent future recurrence. We may recommend the use of different kinds of orthotics, depending on your child’s development and growth:

  • Nolaro orthotics for children whose heels may still be rapidly growing (usually before the age of 10)
  • Go-4D custom orthotics for children whose heels have mostly finished growing, or whose growth has slowed significantly (usually after the age of 10).

These orthotic inserts will help offload excess weight and stress from the heel.

We may also recommend specific stretches and exercises to help condition the supporting tissues surrounding the heel bone to help reduce overall stress in that area.

Our goal will always be to help your child reach a full recovery as quickly and as safely as possible and help them get back to what they love doing.

Don’t Ignore Your Child’s Heel Pain

Whether caused by Sever’s disease or another condition, persistent heel pain is never something to ignore at any age. Let us help you get to the root of the problem and provide the best care to keep your child enjoying their favorite activities without worry. Call us at either of our two offices to schedule an appointment. For Oak Creek, call (414) 764-4500, and for New Berlin, call (262) 821-1588.