As a mother of three very active young boys, picking them up from school or sports games with the odd scrapes and bruises here and there is certainly not an uncommon occurrence in our household.
The growing pains of late childhood offer a seemingly never ending list of things to watch out for - are they eating well, are they taking care of themselves, are they injured? More than once I've found myself falling down a rabbit hole of never ending injury possibilities. I'm a little embarrassed to admit I've found myself googling things like ‘AFL injuries’ or ‘child growth’ in the middle of the night. So how to know when the normal aches and pains are in fact something more? I'm sharing my experience with Sever's Disease to help parents like me out there, who didn't know this was a thing, until it was for me.
What Is Sever's Disease?
Sever’s Disease is related to growth spurts. It's when rapid growth spurts lead to the expedited growth of the heel bone and the tendons, ligaments and muscles surrounding it can’t keep up.
Due to the already unbalanced support in this area, the heel can become often inflamed, sore and tender, and is usually aggravated after engaging in high impact activities such as basketball, afl, gymnastics, soccer and other sports as they place extra strain on the heel bone.
What Causes Sever's Disease?
During the ages of 8 to 15, the area around the heel attached to the ligaments is referred to as a growth plate, in which the cartilage surrounding the heel area is beginning the process of turning to bone. This period causes the area to be more susceptible to irritation as the weakness of the underdeveloped cartilage is exacerbated by impact from everyday activities that jolt the growth plate (walking, running, sports), as well as additional tenderness because the Achilles tendon hasn’t had the chance to attach itself properly to the heel bone - a process which happens naturally during this growth period.
Symptoms and What to Look For
Symptoms of mild to moderate pain and discomfort can arise in one or both heels, including;
- Mild swelling
- Redness and irritation around the base of the heel
- Soreness when touched or rubbed against shoes or hard surfaces
These symptoms on their own may not necessarily be an indication of Sever’s Disease, common though it may be, however things to watch out for that might show your child is experiencing the pains of Sever’s include:
- Limping , especially after exercise or waking up
- Unusual redness around the heel
- Regular shoes or soccer cleats feeling like they don't fit anymore or are too uncomfortable to wear
If you’ve noticed your child experiencing these types of symptoms and are unsure what the cause is, the simplest way to check is have a doctor or podiatrist have a look.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for some remedies and treatments that can be done at home I've compiled a list of home rehabilitation methods that have been tried and tested - as well as the next step regarding what type of doctor to see etc.
When I say we tried everything… I mean everything. From massages to stretching and doctors appointments to ice packs, I could tell you a list of rehabilitation methods I tried with my boys.
Rest: The most effective and simple treatment to ease the pains of Sever’s is simply rest - if your child is very active with sports or training, they will need to make sure they cut down the amount and intensity that they’re doing, and make sure to get a good night's sleep every day. During periods of particular pain resting the heel or heels on a soft ice pack can alleviate some of the soreness.
Ice Baths: Attempting to convince a 13 year old to stay more than 2 seconds in a bath full of ice is trying, to say the least… I tried this with my boys and it did ease some of the muscle pain. However if they are adamantly against the full blown bath, again the ice packs are a quick and easy way to ease pain and potential swelling.
Stretching: Stretching is beneficial for muscles to recover after a training session or high intensity activity in general, but particularly for those with Sever’s Disease, as the tendons and muscles around the growth plate are already over extended and tight. This can be done in the mornings when the heels might feel especially tight or sore or directly after any activity that can cause friction against the tender cartilage.
Massages: Simple at home massages done by you or your child themselves can ease pain and increase blood flow, targeting the fatigued and sore muscles which have been tight and cramped supporting the growth plate area. In extreme cases there are professional sports masseuses that can perform these massages or show you what to do.
None of this is to say you shouldn't check with a doctor first or as well as trying these measures - we tried everything. I took my boys to both a podiatrist and a chiropractor when searching for diagnosis and treatment.
When we went to our chiropractor and physiotherapist they assisted in certain alignments to make sure their posture and spines were aligned and weren't contributing to their pain, and gave us certain stretches for the Achilles tendon.
Orthotics/heel Raisers: these were given to us by our podiatrist
Where can you get help for Sever’s Disease?
If your child has been complaining of heel pain or growing pain it is better to do something about it sooner rather than later. Start with seeing your GP and consider also seeing a chiropractor and physiotherapist. Implementing these rehabilitation methods after consulting a professional can help assist with pain management.