Heel pain in children is not uncommon but can be concerning for parents. While children are generally resilient, persistent heel pain can interfere with their daily activities and overall well-being. If your child complains about heel pain or has changes in their gait, our skilled Austin podiatrist can help diagnose the cause and recommend treatment options so your child can get back to living pain-free.
Common Causes of Heel Pain in Children
Many children, especially those involved in sports, will complain of heel pain at least once as they’re growing up. There are a variety of factors that can cause heel pain in children, including the following:
One of the primary causes of heel pain in children is Sever's disease, also known as calcaneal apophysitis. This condition occurs when the growth plate in the heel becomes inflamed due to the rapid growth experienced during adolescence. Sever’s disease is particularly common in physically active children, especially those involved in sports that require running and jumping.
Plantar fasciitis is another medical condition that causes heel pain in children. This condition involves inflammation of the band of tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes. While it is more commonly associated with adults, children who are involved in activities that place stress on the heel may also experience plantar fasciitis.
Children with flat feet, a condition where the arch of the foot is flattened, may experience heel pain. Pediatric flatfoot can alter the distribution of weight and impact the biomechanics of the foot, leading to discomfort and pain in the heel area.
Achilles tendinitis, characterized by inflammation of the Achilles tendon, often results from sudden activity spikes, such as starting a new sport.
Foot or Heel Fractures
Fractures in the heel or foot may develop from acute injuries or repetitive stress, especially prevalent in children engaged in high-impact sports.
Treating Heel Pain in Children
If your child complains about heel pain or you notice changes in their gait, it is essential to take prompt action and see a pediatric podiatrist. A podiatrist will conduct a comprehensive evaluation to determine the root cause of the heel pain. This may include a physical examination, analysis of gait, and, if necessary, imaging studies such as X-rays.
Once a podiatrist confirms a diagnosis, they can recommend options to help treat heel pain. Treatment options may include:
Rest and Ice
Encourage your child to rest and avoid activities that may worsen the pain. Applying ice to the affected heel for 15-20 minutes at a time can help reduce inflammation.
Ensure your child wears supportive and properly fitting footwear. This can provide the necessary cushioning and arch support to alleviate heel pain.
Incorporate gentle stretching exercises into your child's routine, focusing on the calf muscles and the plantar fascia. Stretching can help improve flexibility and reduce tension in the affected area.
Based on the diagnosis, a pediatric podiatrist may recommend custom orthotics. These are shoe inserts designed to provide additional support, cushioning, and alignment, addressing the specific needs of your child's feet.
In some cases, a podiatrist may prescribe physical therapy to strengthen the muscles and improve the overall biomechanics of the feet. Targeted exercises can be beneficial in reducing heel pain and preventing its recurrence.
Preventing Heel Pain in Children
As a parent, you can help your child prevent heel pain by taking proactive measures to ensure their foot health. You can do this by taking the following steps:
- Ensure your child wears supportive, well-fitted shoes suitable for their activities.
- Check for signs of worn-out or outgrown footwear.
- Ensure a gradual increase in activity levels, avoiding sudden spikes in intensity to prevent conditions such as Severs disease and Achilles tendinitis.
- Encourage your child to stretch the calf muscles to enhance flexibility and reduce strain on your child’s heels.
- Ensure your child maintains a healthy weight to minimize stress on developing bones.
- Schedule regular foot checks by our skilled podiatrist at Austin Foot & Ankle Specialists.