Updated: Mar 2
So, your player is limping off the field or walking on his toes and you can't figure out the problem. He complains that his feet or heels hurt and the slightest clip of the heel has him rolling on the ground like Neymar. His ailment could be Sever's Disease.
I initially wrote this post in 2019. 2 years later my son was still experiencing heel pain which we were encouraging him to play through. We took him to a foot specialist and found that he had actually broken his heel in half. It took a long time but it did heal and he has no residual issues. I share this part of the story now because I think it is important for parents to know it can get worse. It is important to take the steps to let your Sever's Disease heal.
Sever's Disease is one of those painful playable injuries that happen in growing children. This condition is most common in players aged 9-14 and more common during a growth spurt. For some players it is completely debilitating and for those who try to play through it, it can psychologically and physically effect their game.
Sever's Disease is the swelling and irritation of the growth plate that sits in the lower back part of the heel near where the Achilles Tendon attaches.
I'm not a medical professional but I am a soccer mom who has been around the block with Sever's Disease a time or two. Below are a few helpful tips for surviving Sever's Disease with your young player.
1. Ice, Rest and Ibuprofen: Before you see a doctor try icing the heels for 15 minutes after activity, see if a little rest makes the heels feel better and give ibuprofen to reduce inflammation.
2. See a doctor: Many coaches will tell you that Sever's is a playable injury and that it will just go away with time. This is true, however I suggest you see a doctor. It is not normal EVER for a 9-14 year old to be in physical, visible pain every day. Your doctor might order x-rays to rule out other more serious injuries but the best part of seeing your doctor is to confirm the condition, have your player understand that it is real and there is a way to manage it.
3. Do the stretches: When you see your doctor she will give you exercises to help stretch that Achilles Tendon to relieve the pulling that is causing the irritation in the heel. Sticking to your stretching routine is key to a quicker recovery.
4. Wear heel cups: Sever's Disease is hard for soccer players to recover from because of the footwear our players wear. We will get to that later but the force of cleats coming up from the bottom paired with the strain of an immature and tight Achilles tendon causes double the irritation on your player's growth plate. A heel cup (or heel brace) provides cushion, support and angles the foot in the players shoe to reduce the sudden pulling on the tendon while running. Heel cups will provide almost instant relief.
5. Listen to your player: Sever's Disease is miserable but it can also be an opportunity. It is easy as a parent to dismiss the pain and push your son or daughter to play through it, and they probably can. However this is an amazing opportunity to show your player that they should listen to their body and you are listening to them.
Preventing Sever's Disease and Reoccurrence
We have survived two flair ups of Sever's Disease and I've done a lot of research, talked to a number of doctors, coaches and parents about this injury. Below are a few tips for improved heel health for your growing player.
1. Sit correctly in chairs: We see more Sever's Disease in the fall season and I have two theories as to why that is. The first is a return to school and the way our players sit. Often you see players sitting with their toes on the ground or feet dangling. This foot posture shortens the Achilles. Players should sit in their school desks with their heels on the ground so as to keep the tendon stretched through out the day.
2. Swimming shortens your Achilles: My second theory for Sever's in the fall is a result of swimming in the summer. I've found that players who swim often or competitively in the summer return with painful Sever's in the fall. Swimming with your toes pointed all summer long and running around without shoes on pounding your heels then returning to a full blown soccer schedule tends to be a recipe for heel pain.
3. Invest in good soccer cleats: It's very tempting to go to a big box sports store and buy the least expensive soccer cleats off the shelf, however the saying "you get what you pay for" is true. Not all soccer shoes are created equal and the more expensive shoes are also better made and better for your player's foot. When purchasing a new pair of soccer cleats you want to make sure you take into account a couple of things including the support to your heel, the length of the studs and overall quality. If your cleat budget is limited, at least bring your heel cups along and make sure your new boots fit comfortably with the heel cups inside.
I am not a medical professional, just a mom with experience. All links provided here are to information I found useful or products I have previously purchased for my own players. No company or individual has influenced this post in any way.