As a parent, it’s hard to know what to do when your child complains about pain, stiffness, or discomfort in a limb or joint. You don’t want to overreact and scare your child, but you also don’t want to ignore something that might be serious.
With a very young child, it can be hard to get a straight answer about what they are feeling or what happened to cause the pain. School-aged children might exaggerate an injury after an accident to get out of going to school or doing chores. At the other end of the spectrum, teenage athletes might downplay an injury because they don’t want to miss practice or sit out a game.
We understand the confusion and hesitation you are feeling as a parent with a potentially injured child. That’s why we encourage you to come and see us if your child has an obvious injury or appears to be in pain. Our pediatric specialists have a gentle approach with children and will be able to determine pretty quickly whether they have a problem that needs medical attention.
Common Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Conditions in Children
While children are generally more resilient than most adults, that doesn’t mean they can’t be seriously injured when they fall, crash their bike or skateboard, or get hit by a ball. In addition to traumatic injuries like these, some children are born with foot and ankle deformities that don’t become a problem for them until they start walking, running, or playing sports.
Common foot and ankle problems we see—and successfully treat—in children include the following:
- Flat feet and high arches. All babies and toddlers have flat feet, but if they don’t start to develop an arch by age 5 or 6, you should talk to your doctor about footwear, orthotics, and therapy to prevent injury. Likewise, some children develop very high arches that can cause foot pain and stress fractures and make walking and running difficult. A pediatric foot doctor can address both of these problems.
- Ankle sprains. As children run on uneven surfaces or begin to play a new sport, they can twist their ankles and stretch or tear the ligaments that support the joint. It is important to get an ankle sprain diagnosed quickly to speed up the healing process.
- Stress fractures. These are small breaks in the bone that don’t cause bone displacement. They can be caused by overuse of the joint, which is common in children who specialize in one sport or activity at an early age.
- Avulsion fractures. Because bones grow faster than muscles, and tendons are stronger than bones, children are at risk for avulsion fractures, where an over-extended tendon breaks off a small piece of bone.
- Growth plate injuries. Until a child has stopped growing, their bones have soft areas at the ends known as growth plates. These areas are weaker than the bones and ligaments nearby and can be broken in a traumatic accident. Growth plates in the feet and ankles are common injury locations in children.
- Sever’s disease. Swelling and soreness caused by the rapid growth of the heel bones in pre-adolescent children is known as Sever’s disease. Alteration of activity and therapy can help children get through this painful stage.
These are just a few of the childhood foot and ankle conditions we treat in our Portland-area clinics.
When to Take a Child’s Pain Seriously
You know your child best. If they are not whiney by nature but suddenly complain of foot or ankle pain, it’s a good idea to get it checked out. Other ways to identify potential injuries or abnormalities in children include:
- Limping. A child with a high pain threshold or who is trying to hide an injury might still limp when they have a heel, foot, ankle, or leg injury. Be aware of changes in their gait or sudden favoring of one leg over the other.
- Lumps, bruises, and bumps. During bath time, be alert to marks, bumps, and other abnormalities. Even before a child experiences pain, some conditions might be physically visible.
- Avoidance behaviors. A child who won’t wear certain shoes, who suddenly refuses to go to t-ball practice, or who engages in other avoidance behaviors might have an injury they don’t understand or are trying to hide.
- Red joints. If a child’s toe, ankle, or knee joint is swollen, red, and warm to the touch, they might have an infection, which requires immediate treatment.
- Chronic pain. If a limp or complaint doesn’t go away with rest, ice, and time, it’s important to get it checked out by a doctor. Children can get arthritis, and early diagnosis is important.
Our pediatric orthopedists have the knowledge and experience to diagnose a range of childhood foot and ankle injuries.