Heel pain and Sever’s disease can be a part of growing up

My 8-year-old daughter, Kate, is a runner and enjoys competing in cross country and track. Last fall she started complaining that her heel hurt. There were no obvious signs of an issue other than the pain. Not wanting to be an alarmist parent, I brushed it off and encouraged her to stretch well. I also made sure she had shoes that fit well. She continued to run and only occasionally complained of pain. Over the winter the pain stopped.

This spring when track started up, so did the pain. It was obvious that something was going on, so we consulted Joshua W. Meier, M.D., pediatric orthopedic specialist with Norton Children’s Orthopedics of Louisville. The diagnosis: Sever’s disease. While it may sound scary, it’s not. It’s more of a condition than a disease.

“Sever’s disease is very common in kids and has no lasting side effects,” Dr. Meier said. “The pain is caused when tight muscles and tendons, combined with the pressure of running or jumping, causes swelling in the growth plate found in the heel.”

Sever’s disease symptoms

Children who regularly run and jump, especially on hard surfaces, are more at risk, such as those who run track, play basketball or soccer, or participate in gymnastics. While any child can get Sever’s disease, it’s more common in children 6-10 years old, have some baseline muscle tightness, or are overweight.

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In addition to the pain, the heel can be swollen or red and it may be painful to walk. A child may limp or walk on tiptoes. Pain and stiffness is sometimes worse in the morning.

“Most of the time, rest, ice and stretching exercises will help reduce the pain,” Dr. Meier said. “Proper shoes and heel cushioning also can help. Once the growth plate hardens as the child gets older, the issue goes away.”

I’m a firm believer that it’s always good to have a diagnosis confirmed by a specialist since there are other issues that can cause the same symptoms. The news we got was a relief. We’ve ordered some shoe inserts and will increase the stretching and icing. Hopefully Kate will be back on the track in no time.


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