Growing pains aren’t quite the myth you’ve been led to believe. The rapid growth of your child’s bones, combined with the fact that children are often extremely physically active, can lead to a painful heel injury known as Sever’s disease.

Despite the name, it isn’t an illness and is usually something that will go away once your child is fully grown. But in the meantime, it can cause serious pain and distress. So, what is it and what can you do about it?

What is Sever’s disease?

To enable a child’s bones to grow, there are several growth plates around the body – these are areas of soft cartilage that allow the bones to add length and width. Once a child has stopped growing, these growth plates harden into solid bone.

As well as being located at the ends of several long bones, like the femur, radius and ulna, one growth plate is located in the heel, and is the attachment point for the Achilles tendon.

During a growth spurt, the heel bones grow rapidly – and the heel is actually one of the first bones to reach adult size. Often, the muscles and tendons can’t grow fast enough to keep up, which causes them to be stretched. If your child does a lot of running and jumping – either through sports, or simply being a kid – this can further strain the tendons, and sometimes pull on the Achilles tendon, which can add extra stress. All of this causes pain and inflammation which, in 1912, was named by James Warren Sever as Sever’s disease.

The issue is most common in boys, but it can also affect girls. Children are most likely to experience problems during a growth spurt – for girls this is usually between the ages of 8 and 13, whereas in boys it is usually between the ages of 10 and 15.

Symptoms of Sever’s disease

Children with Sever’s disease will usually experience:

  • Pain in one or both heels
  • Swelling or redness in the affected heel(s)
  • Tenderness
  • Difficulty walking
  • Limping or walking/running on tiptoes

The pain will usually be worse during exercise, and better after rest.

Treatment for Sever’s disease

The good news is, Sever’s disease usually goes away completely once a child has stopped growing. The bad news is that can take a long time.

Rest is often the best treatment, and your child may need to cut down on physical activity for a while. When they are able to return to their activities, they’ll need to build up gradually.

You can also give your child appropriate painkillers (chat to us if unsure) to relieve some of the discomfort, and ice packs can help with the swelling.

There are several ways a physiotherapist can help:

  • We can do some special stretching exercises with your child – and teach you both how to do them at home – Strengthening the calf muscles, leg muscles and relieving the tension on the Achilles tendon.
  • We can advise on or provide equipment and special shoes to support the foot and cushion the impact on the heel.
  • We will also help prevent the issue from coming back, by teaching you and your child some important stretches for before and after exercise, guiding you on a plan for their sports activities to make sure they don’t overdo it, making sure they’re wearing the right footwear for their activities so their feet are well supported, and advising on any lifestyle issues that might be exacerbating the problem.

Then it’s just a case of waiting for them to grow up. But trust us when we say, that will happen before you know it!

If your child is experiencing heel pain, we’re here to help! Just give us a call on 9838 3030 or email and we’ll see what we can do.