Children are resilient, but when your child begins to complain about heel pain, this must be taken seriously. Heel pain in a child is not normal. The early signs of heel pain include limping, the inability to participate in athletic activities and walking on one’s toes. The most common type of heel pain in a child is called calcaneal apophysitis (an injury to the growth plate in the heel). Typically, boys between the ages of 8-13 will present with symptoms of pain in the heel and significant limping after participating in athletic activities. However, not always will a child have calcaneal apophysitis, and many times the doctor must rule out a stress fracture.
The heel pain in a child is typically increased and intensify with physical activity, and many times while being barefoot. The symptoms are typically relieved with protection and wearing cushioned shoes. The cause of this injury is usually seen because children grow rapidly and during these rapid periods of growth, the long bones of the lower leg will grow quicker than the muscles and tendons. Because the growth plate is an area of weakness until complete development of the calcaneus (heel bone), the added stress of the muscles and tendons along with physical activity can cause inflammation of the growth plate and the subsequent pain.
Because of the challenge of making a diagnosis for the cause of the heel pain, it is most important to see a foot and ankle surgeon. The foot and ankle surgeon will take a complete medical history, perform a thorough examination and order the appropriate diagnostic tests, which may include x-rays, bone scans or an MRI. Weil Foot and Ankle Institute has an in-house MRI for immediate results. There are numerous treatment options for pediatric heel pain and the treatment will be determined by the foot and ankle surgeon after the examination.
Many times these types of injuries are unavoidable, but proper athletic shoes, stretching exercises and avoidance of obesity are some of the ways one can prevent an injury to the growth plate.