Heel Pain and Your Child: What You Should Know
Your child might not need to be given many excuses to run around. You might even have a developing sports star on your hands! But what happens if they start telling you their heels hurt—or you can tell they’re trying to hide the fact that they do?
There are a few reasons why your child might have heel pain. We will go into a few of them here, but there are a couple consistent threads when it comes to proper care:
- If heel pain persists for more than a few days, or keeps coming back with certain activities, it’s a sign that something is wrong. Delaying action only increases the chances of making the problem more chronic or worse.
- Most sources of heel pain can be effectively treated via conservative methods, so you should not be afraid of surgery – this treatment method is only used in severe cases.
In other words, don’t wait to address your child’s heel pain!
What Might Be Causing Your Child’s Heels to Hurt?
We likely don’t need to tell you that your child’s feet grow quickly from birth up through adolescence. You probably have bought enough shoes to determine that!
As your child’s feet develop, however, that development can sometimes pave the way for increased likelihood of problems. Some are temporary, but others may need more long-term attention. Other times, heel pain may develop as a result of overuse, just as it may in any adult.
Here are a few of the common causes of heel pain in children:
If you have a child between the ages of 7-14 who tends to be active and has started complaining of heel pain, Sever’s disease is one cause we will likely seek to rule out.
“Sever’s disease” sounds a lot worse than it actually is. It’s not a “disease” in the sense of anything bacterial or viral. Rather, it’s a condition that can arise due to stresses from growth and development.
There is a “growth plate” on the back of the heel that creates new bone as we grow. Eventually, this closes off when we reach adulthood. Until then, however, it remains open and vulnerable to trauma. Around adolescence, this plate can be pulled on by the Achilles tendon, as well as be stressed by activities such as running and jumping.
Treatment for Sever’s disease will likely involve rest from activity for several months if it is severe. However, it might be possible to engage in reduced activity if there is not heavy pain or limping (you never want to push injuries for the sake of sports, though!). Stretching exercises, heel pads, and medications can also help with pain and swelling.
While sometimes “growing pains” is used in conjunction with Sever’s disease, they are not quite the same thing. However, the family in the sitcom Growing Pains were the Seavers. Hmm…
While the Achilles tendon can cause problems to the growth plate of the heel bone, it can also become strained and inflamed itself.
Pain from Achilles tendinitis tends to be felt just above the back of the heel, or sometimes even a bit higher than that. Whereas the Achilles tendon can pull on the heel bone to cause pain, the calf muscles attached to the other end of the Achilles can pull on the tendon with similar results.
Activities with lots of running, jumping, or pivoting tend to see more cases of Achilles tendinitis. These include running, dancing, and basketball.
Rest tends to be the best treatment for an aching Achilles, but stretching exercises are also important for strengthening and loosening the Achilles to prevent excess stress upon it. Both direct and preventative care are important to help prevent chronic problems from developing.
Plantar fasciitis is the inflammation of a thick band of tissue that runs beneath the foot. It helps form the arch and aid in movement.
Plantar fasciitis is a very common cause of heel pain in adults, but can affect children as well. Overuse during sports and activities is certainly a cause of the problem, but so can having an abnormal foot shape that places excess stress on certain areas of the foot.
When evaluating heel pain, we will also check the structure of the foot. Does your child have flat feet or high arches? They might be contributing to plantar fasciitis or another form of heel pain.
If this is the case, in addition to treatments such as stretching, we might also recommend the use of custom-orthotics. These can be specifically adapted to your child’s foot shape to provide support and offload excess forces from areas that need it.
Healthy Heels into Adulthood
While detecting and treating heel pain is crucial when it happens, curbing problems before they develop is even better.
Though orthotics are very useful tools, they might not be most effective for children whose arches are still in development. Monitoring your child’s foot structure over the course of periodic checkups can help us determine whether orthotics might be needed in the future.
Knowing the condition of your child’s feet and their plans for activities—such as what sports they are currently in or interested in playing—can help us make recommendations for you in terms of strengthening exercises and proper footwear. Making sure of smaller matters like this can help prevent larger problems later on.
If your child currently has heel pain, or you have questions on best practices to keep young feet healthy, please call one of our three offices:
- Edison – (908) 222-8980
- Warren – (732) 356-3668
- Hillsborough – (908) 722-3668
We are also happy to take questions and appointment requests electronically via our online contact form. Fill it out and a member of our office will reach out to you.