Children can be affected by inflammatory conditions, such as plantar fasciitis, in an equal manner with adults. However, as opposed to adults, this condition can often be managed with conservative measures and physical therapy. It is a rare situation, in which the condition can only be solved through surgical intervention. Plantar fasciitis remains one of the most common causes of heel and arch pain in children, requiring pain management and other intervention measures. Keep on reading and discover more useful information on the subject.
How does plantar fasciitis appear in children?
Contact sports/high-impact activities
The plantar fascia, in children, serves the same purposes, as in adults. It offers the necessary stability and support for the arch of the foot, especially during walking or running. In the majority of the situations, the plantar fascia is injured, as a result of contact sports or other high-impact activities. As you will have the opportunity to read below, stretches and muscle strengthening exercises are essential, in order for the symptoms associated with this condition to improve.
Abnormal foot mechanics, flat feet/overpronation
The main cause behind the appearance of plantar fasciitis in children is abnormal foot mechanics. If the foot posture is not normal, then a lot of stress will be placed on the plantar fascia, which will lead to pain and inflammation in the end. Children who have flat feet or those who present overpronation, are at high risk of developing such conditions, due to the excess tension on the plantar fascia.
Inadequate footwear is another main cause of plantar fasciitis in the pediatric population. If the shoes are too flexible or if the child is used to wearing athletic shoes on a regular basis, the plantar fascia will suffer from overloading. This will lead to the subsequent inflammation and pain in the heel area.
Plantar fascia is more often diagnosed in children who present joint hypermobility, as well as in those who present tight calves or those who engage in regular physical training (prospective athletes). Last, but not least, obese or overweight children, present a higher risk for developing this condition; this is because they have to carry all that extra weight, thus placing a lot of stress and tension on the soft tissues of the foot (plantar fascia included).
The symptoms of plantar fasciitis in children do not differ from the ones present in adults. Most children complain of heel and arch pain, most often with the first steps taken in the morning (or after prolonged periods of sitting). They will also complain of pain, after spending an entire day at school. Sometimes, the pain is exacerbated with physical activities, such as walking or running. It is possible that the pain becomes worse, when the child has to walk on a hard surface.
How is plantar fasciitis diagnosed in children?
The diagnosis of plantar fasciitis in children can be especially challenging, as the medical specialist has to rely on the information given by parents and/or caregivers. Depending on the age of the child, he/she can also provide information regarding the symptomatology presented but this is often subjective.
First and foremost, the doctor will take a comprehensive medical history, resorting to the parents for such purposes. He/she will also perform a thorough medical assessment, as well as the gait analysis. Additional tests might be necessary, in order to confirm the diagnosis of plantar fasciitis. For example, the doctor will assess the posture of the foot, the range of motion in the joints involved and the strength of the muscles in the area. A pain provocation test, as well as the assessment of used footwear, might also be necessary for a correct diagnosis.
What are the treatment solutions available?
As it was already mentioned above, the surgical intervention rarely represents a treatment option for children diagnosed with this condition. Instead, the doctor will recommend physical rest; trainings and other high-impact activities should be resumed, only when the child is no longer experiencing heel pain and can walk normally. Taping can be used, in order to reduce the tension on the plantar fascia and speed up the recovery (also brings the desired pain relief).
Parents are advised to change the footwear of the child, with shoes that provide the necessary support and stability for the arch of the foot. Foot orthotics and night splints might also be recommended, in order to improve the overall posture of the foot and reduce the existent tension on the plantar fascia. Physical therapy can be of invaluable help; the physical therapist will help the child perform stretches, for both the plantar fascia and the calf muscles. Moreover, he/she can introduce a series of exercises, destined to increase the strength of feet muscles. The ice massage can be used at the beginning of the therapy, in order to reduce inflammation and pain; then, it can be replaced with regular massage therapy.
When should you take your child to the doctor?
If your child is complaining of pain at the level of the heel and/or arch of the foot, or if he/she is having difficulties walking, you might want to visit a medical professional. He/she will analyze both the gain and foot posture, using the methods presented above, in order to make an accurate diagnosis and recommend suitable intervention/treatment measures.
Do not make the mistake of thinking that children cannot be affected by inflammatory conditions, such as plantar fasciitis. As long as the causative factors are present, the risk of inflammation and subsequent pain is present as well. Once the first symptoms become obvious, do not hesitate to go to the doctor and obtain a correct diagnosis. The earlier the treatment is started, the better the evolution of the child is going to be. Once the condition is resolved, you have to pay attention to potential causative factors. Change his/her footwear on a regular basis, allow him/her to rest after strenuous physical training and help him/her to engage in regular stretches and muscle strengthening exercises.