When most of us think of sore or aching feet, we think of the foot pain we experience as adults. It’s true, heel pain is a common medical complaint for women and men, but what’s also true is that a surprising number of kids can have foot pain, too — and often, that pain is focused around the heel area. In adults, identifying and diagnosing heel pain is often a straightforward process. But knowing when your child is suffering from heel pain isn’t always so easy. Here’s how to recognize the symptoms of heel pain, as well as a quick review of some common causes of heel pain in kids.
Some kids will be very forthcoming in letting you know they’re having heel pain. But considering how kids don’t exactly look forward to seeing a doctor, they might not always let you know when they’re experiencing discomfort. Fortunately, most heel pain presents in some fairly obvious ways that can be pretty easy to spot if you just use a little common sense.
Think about it: If your heels hurt, it’s going to affect the way you walk. For kids, it’s no different. If your child has heel pain, you might notice they tend to raise up on their toes when they walk or even walk on the sides of their feet. While toe-walking can sometimes be a sign of another podiatric issue, heel pain is often the underlying cause.
Toe-walking “works” in kids with heel pain because it relieves pressure on the heels, and that means their heels are less likely to hurt. Limping serves a similar purpose by transferring more weight to the foot that doesn’t hurt. Limping is more common among kids who have pain in one heel rather than both heels. Like toe-walking, limping can be caused by issues other than heel pain, and it should always be evaluated at our office.
If your child is active and likes to play, either on a team or after school with friends, heel pain may cause them to avoid those activities or to change from physically active play to more inactive interactions (like avoiding activities involving jumping or running). Being aware of these changes can help you determine if your child has heel pain (or another issue that can be just as serious).
Some types of heel pain involve inflammation that can make the skin over the heel look pinkish, or the area might be tender to the touch.
While the causes of heel pain can be similar in kids and in adults (like fractures, for instance), the two major causes of heel pain in kids are Sever's disease and Achilles tendonitis.
Also called calcaneal apophysitis, Sever’s disease tends to occur during your child’s growing years (especially from ages eight to 14 years) when the growth plate on the heel bone becomes inflamed and irritated. When the heel bone grows faster than supportive tissues, the heel can become stiff and more prone to injury. Inflammation most commonly occurs as a result of repetitive impact activities, like jumping on the foot, but even standing can be painful. Rest, ice, gentle stretching activities, and proper footwear can help reduce symptoms in most kids. If they play a sport, they may need to stop for a bit to give the heel area time to heal.
The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body, connecting your calf muscle ro your heel. Achilles tendonitis (or tendinitis) occurs when the tendon becomes irritated and inflamed. Sometimes, a bony growth called a heel spur can cause inflammation, but in kids, Achilles tendonitis tends to occur more as a result of overuse and repetitive impact activities. Other times, a tiny fluid-filled sac called a heel bursa can become inflamed. The heel bursa acts as a cushion between the Achilles tendon and the heel bone. Inflammation of bursa is called bursitis, and again, repetitive use and overuse are the most common causes.
At Kazmer Foot & Ankle Center, we help kids overcome their foot pain with state-of-the-art treatments and preventive measures aimed at preventing future problems. To have your child’s foot pain evaluated, book an appointment online today.