Sever’s Disease – Heel Pain in Active Kids

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It isn’t always easy to tell when your child is suffering from heel pain. That’s especially true if they are afraid that letting you know about it will let down their sports team or keep them from doing the things they love.

But for many kids between the ages of 8-15, heel pain can develop as part of growing up. This condition, known as Sever’s disease, is not the only cause of heel pain for kids around this age. It is, however, very common in (and exclusively affects) children and teens.

What is Sever’s Disease?

Sever’s disease, also known as calcaneal apophysitis, is not a “disease” in the conventional way many people think of the term. It is not a contagious infection, but actually a type of sports injury.

As a child grows and develops, most of the bones must grow larger to keep up. Areas at the ends of bones called “growth plates” are where this occurs. 

Growth plates are made of cartilage and can be more vulnerable to various traumas during a growth period. It isn’t until growth is finished that these areas convert into fully solid bone. 

In the case of Sever’s disease, the growth plate on the heel bone (calcaneus) is particularly open to injury. Not only does this area potentially have to deal with the repetitive impacts of running and jumping, but the Achilles tendon that attaches to this section can also pull rather severely on it.

Additional factors that can contribute to Sever’s disease include standing on hard surfaces for long periods of time, as well as footwear that doesn’t fit properly or doesn’t properly accommodate the forces of the activities they’re being used for.

sever's disease

What are the Symptoms of Sever’s Disease?

The symptoms of Sever’s disease are often fairly straightforward:

  • Pain and tenderness, typically along the underside of the heel
  • Mild swelling and redness
  • A feeling of stiffness in the feet when getting up in the morning, or after long periods of sitting
  • An increase in pain after running, which might cause limping

What can sometimes be tricky, as noted earlier, is your child being upfront with you about their symptoms. Look for signs of trouble, including a lack of interest in doing activities they normally love, and make sure the lines of communication between you and your child are open as best as possible if you suspect there may be a problem.

Treating Heel Pain and Sever’s Disease

Sever’s disease can be diagnosed through a standard physical examination. However, we might recommend an X-ray or other imaging test for some cases, often to rule out the possibility of a stress fracture or other condition.

The good news is that Sever’s disease is easily treatable in most cases. However, it will almost always require a period of rest to allow the heel bone the time and opportunity necessary to heal. 

A child who is active in sports might not like to hear that, but rest is nonetheless important. And it does not necessarily mean they have to be completely sedentary, either. Certain lower-impact activities might still be possible, and we are always happy to help you and your child determine a plan to remain active during recovery without risking further problems. (We want them to keep moving!)

Additional parts of a treatment plan might include:

  • Specific stretches and exercises that can condition the Achilles tendon and reduce the “pull” on the heel bone.
  • Anti-inflammatory medications.
  • Heel cushions or pads to help absorb excess impacts during activity.
  • Slightly elevating the heel (through footwear choices) to lessen stress on the heel bone.

In some cases, we might recommend advanced treatments such as laser therapy to accelerate healing.

Take Care of Heel Pain Problems Now

The sooner heel pain is addressed, the faster your child can return to full activities without discomfort as an obstacle!

Call us at (814) 472-2660 to schedule an appointment at our offices in Johnstown or Ebensburg. If you prefer to contact us electronically instead, simply fill out our online contact form and a member of our staff will respond during our standard office hours.