“Mom my Heel Hurts “

This is the time of the year when little ones become active in their summer sports and activities. I commonly see boys and girls with the complaint of their heels hurting. Family may notice that the child walks or runs “funny” when they participate in activities both during and after they finish the activity. Children often don’t complain until the symptoms become more significant.

All our bones have growth plates. Long bones like in our arms and legs have a growth plate at both ends of the bone. But most bones have just one growth plate. The growth plate in the heel bone is on the back bottom of the heel right where the heel hits the ground when walking or running. This along with accelerated growth within the heel bone (the largest bone in the foot) can lead to the medical problem called calcaneal apophysitis (inflammation of the growth plate in the heel bone). I have seen this as early as age 7 and as late as age 15. Girls usually younger and boys usually older.

If you squeeze the back part of the heel and this produces pain to the child, then they likely have this condition. X-rays can determine if there are any problems with the heel bone other than this condition and should be taken to ensure there is nothing else contributing to their pain and ensure that the growth plate has not shifted.

Treatment usually consists of padding the heel or inserts depending on the child’s foot structure along with a good supportive shoe with a firm heel counter. Stretching, icing, anti-inflammatories, Physical Therapy, custom foot orthotics (custom arch supports to be worn inside the shoe) and, in the worst-case scenario, even applying a cast (rare) may be employed in the treatment and resolve of calcaneal apophysitis.

So, the next time your child complains of their heel or ankle hurting or you notice them walking differently, squeeze the back bottom of the heel to see if this condition may be the problem. If so, early treatment is best and can resolve the problem quickly versus allowing it to persist and the child will be more likely able to continue their activities without interruption.

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