Growing Pain Explained - What's Going On?
Winter is here! This means that football, soccer and netball seasons are well under way. Each year it feels like clockwork with kids of all ages ﬂooding into the clinic, particularly between the ages of 10 and 15 years, with the same complaint: Growing pains at their heels.
With the term “growing pains” being used to explain and almost excuse such a wide variety of childhood pains, I feel it’s important to understand exactly what this means and exactly what is going (or growing!) on.
Invariably, when an active child at that age is suffering from pain that is localised to the heel, it’s not actually just plain old ‘growing pains’. Nine times out of ten they have a condition called ‘Sever's disease'.
When I think back to many centuries ago in my early teens when I was playing sport, I remember feeling crippled with painful heels at half-time, or just after. I couldn't put my heels down to the ground and I’d be limping around for the rest of the day. My mum would ice my heels and tell me that it’s just growing pains and that I’d just grow out of them. Like it was any normal thing that everyone just has to suffer through for as long as our bodies determine.
If we examine growing pains and what sever's disease actually is - she wasn’t wrong in one sense. We know that sever's is the inﬂammation of the growth plate which exists in toward the back of the heel bone. Because as kids we grow, particularly quickly in the ages between 10 and 15, the bones are extending in length which stretches and causes traction on the calf muscles. These muscles in turn pull the achilles tendon which pulls into the back of the heel. This area at the back of the heel isn’t fully formed bone yet - the best analogy I can give is two bricks that are held together by mortar or cement that’s not yet set and will set over time to be solid. It is no wonder then that pulling on a growth plate which hasn’t fully adhered to the heel causes pain and discomfort.
This can be compounded by a foot that’s rolling excessively in or out which places undue stress on the achilles and hence heel bone too. The achilles tendon is designed to pull in a straight line and not to the sides - think of it like a stick and how you can pull on its ends and the stick remains strong, but if you start to bend and twist that stick then it starts to become compromised and we start to have problems.
Personally, I love getting kids in with sever's or ‘growing pains’ because when appropriately managed, these kids are out of pain in a couple of weeks and they’re back playing sport. It’s devastating to hear that kids are still told the same things I was about having to wait out and endure growing pains and sit out favourite sports in the meantime.
I believe that kids are meant to be active - we want them running, playing sport and achieving anything they set their minds to. I find that kids today seem to be more active than ever with the amount of sports that are available all year round and I believe it’s important for them to be able to participate and play if that’s what they enjoy.
There are, of course, other contributing factors such as low set footy and soccer boots with no heel pitch which places a greater strain on the heel and the growth plate. Also I’ve found that with our hard, dry ground here in Australia there can be more resulting impact forces which can contribute to the problem.
If your child is suffering then bring them in to see one of our awesome podiatrists - we’ll thoroughly go through everything that’s going on so we can identify exactly what the problem and the cause is, map the treatment plan, and get your kids back out and playing sport, playing with their friends and having fun - exactly as they should be.
About the Author
B.Hlth.Sci.(POD)Hons, B.App.Sci.(HMS-Ed), M.A.POD.A, M.Sports Med. A., A.A.P.S.M.
Director / Podiatrist
Throughout high school Troy experienced a multitude of injuries from a wide variety of sports. He tried everything from GP, physio, chiro and magnets with little success. Then one day while getting fitted for school shoes the man serving him commented that he had very poor lower limb alignment and that he should see a podiatrist. So impressed with the result, he researched the profession and the rest as they say is history.
Having been in the industry for 12 years, Troy is particularly interested in biomechanics, alignment issues, sport/lifestyle related injuries and paediatrics. His career highlight was being one of 20 podiatrists nationwide appointed to the medical team at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games.
Troy is proud to own a successful and growing practice and strongly believes your feet are your independence. They are commonly neglected and the significance of the feet and lower limb is commonly overlooked. He loves helping people get over their injuries, improving their quality of movement and optimizing their performance.
Special interest in running assessments, technique correction, injury prevention and performance enhancement.