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 actual pathology of the condition is one of more of an overuse syndrome in which the growth plate of the heel may become slightly displaced, causing pain. Biopsies of similar conditions have shown changes consistent with separation of the cartilage. The cause of Sever's disease is not entirely clear. It is most likely due to overuse or repeated minor trauma that happens in a lot of sporting activities - the cartilage join between the two parts of the bone can not take all the shear stress of the activities. Some children seem to be just more prone to it for an unknown reason, combine this with sport, especially if its on a hard surface and the risk of getting it increases. A pronated foot and tight calf muscles are common contributing factors. The condition is very similar to Osgood-Schlatters Disease which occurs at the knee.
Sever condition causes pain at the back of the heel. The pain is increased with plantar flexion of the ankle (pushing down with the foot as if stepping on the gas), particularly against resistance. Sever condition also causes tenderness and swelling in the area of the pain.
X-rays are normal in Sever's disease, but your doctor will probably get X-rays to rule out other problems. Treatment consists of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and use of a heel lift to relieve tension on the calcaneal apophysis. In more severe cases, phycical therapy consisting of modalities to relieve the pain, and stretching exercises may be helpful. In extreme cases, castings have been used.
Non Surgical Treatment
The doctor will talk with you about the best treatment plan for your child. As instructed, your child will Ice the heel 3-4 times a day for 15-20 minutes at a time. Use an ice pack or bag of frozen peas, or something similar. Never put ice directly on your child's skin. A thin cloth or towel should be between your child?s skin and the ice pack. Take anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen, as directed. Decrease the amount of running and jumping he or she does. Stretch the heels and calves, as instructed by the doctor. Regular stretching can help prevent Sever?s from coming back. Use a ?heel cup? or a cushioned shoe insert that takes pressure off the heel. In some cases, a cast is placed on the foot and worn for several weeks.
It may take several weeks or months for the pain to completely stop. When the pain is completely gone, your child may slowly return to his or her previous level of activity.