The phrase “back to school” can cause excitement and dread for both kids and parents. One thing is for sure: it is a busy time of year. Along with homework, packing lunches, and getting used to the classroom routine, many kids will begin a new season of organized sports, whether for the first time or continuing their year-round play. As family dinners become a thing of the past and parents are driving from one activity to the next, subtle changes that lead to foot and ankle pain can often go unnoticed.
We have all heard of “growing pains” in kids, but it is important for parents to understand that any pain that does not improve after a few days of rest is a sign that something may be wrong and should be evaluated by a health care provider. There are several common causes of pain that can afflict children’s feet, causing them to alter the way they walk or run. The pain may be related to overuse from playing the same sport year-round, or from a change in activity such as lazy summer days suddenly becoming highly active days. Parents should pay close attention to their children’s feet and ankles, as changes may not be obvious, and the pain may not be severe, so kids may tend to ignore or hide their symptoms.
The following are some of the common causes of foot and ankle pain in kids that should be evaluated by a podiatrist:
- Heel Pain: This can range from an Achilles tendon (muscle and tendon unit in back of the leg attaching to heel bone) injury from overuse or fatigue, to plantar fasciitis (pain on bottom of the foot near the heel bone) often caused by wearing unsupportive shoes like thin flip flops, or wearing no shoes at all during activity. Another common cause of heel pain in kids between the ages of eight to 14 years, particularly boys, is called Sever’s disease, or calcaneal apophysitis. This is an irritation in the growth plate of the growing child’s heel bone.
- Ankle sprains: The most common type of ankle sprain is when the ankle rolls “outward” and there is pain and swelling on the front and/or outside part of the ankle. While a severe ankle sprain caused by an obvious injury should always be evaluated by a podiatrist to be sure that nothing in broken, less serious ankle sprains can be caused by fatigue, overuse, or simply by uneven ground, weak muscles, or improper or ill-fitting shoes for that activity.
- Flat feet: At certain ages, it is normal for a child to have flat feet, or lack of an arch on the inside of the foot. Flat feet are not always painful, but they may cause trouble with running or walking, and sometimes cause pain and cramping in the feet, legs, or knees.
- Ingrown Toenail: This usually occurs on the big toe, and it can be extremely painful. The most common cause for an ingrown nail is cutting the nails too short, but repeated kicking — like kicking a soccer ball — or poorly fitting shoes can also lead to this painful condition.
If a child has any sort of foot pain, or if you are concerned about any foot condition, get an evaluation from a podiatrist. With a proper diagnosis, most of the painful conditions are easily treatable. Treatment can range from simple stretches and rest, all the way to orthotic inserts in the shoes. It is a busy time of year, so don’t let foot pain slow you down!
If you have any questions about your child’s shoes or feet, or if you have a problem with your own feet, please contact the office at 309-661-9975 or visit us online at HeartlandFootandAnkle.com.