Foot problems can cause pain and limit your child’s options.
As a parent, you want to spare your child from as much pain as possible, while giving them as many options as you can. With that in mind, something you can do to help your child avoid pain—both now and later in life—is by recognizing the early signs and symptoms of common issues that develop in lower limbs. Given the complex structure of feet and ankles—26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 soft tissues (muscles, ligaments, and tendons)—there is simply a lot of opportunity for things to go wrong.
This raises the question:
How can you spot a foot injury or condition while it’s still in early stages?
The answer depends, naturally, on the situation and circumstances involved. Sometimes the early signs are blatantly obvious.
For example, if you’re watching your child play little league baseball and a hard hit sends a ball careening along the ground before they’re able to get a glove down, it might strike a toe and fracture a bone. In this case, there will be sharp, acute pain and your child may experience difficulty putting weight on the injured foot. Plus, you will probably see tears and hear crying (on account of the intense pain).
Less obvious is a condition like Sever’s disease (heel pain). To help you identify foot pain and difficulty, here are some things that might clue you in to an existing problem:
Withdrawal from normal activities
Going back to the opening of this post, if your child is usually competitive and active but there’s been a recent change, it could be related to pain from posterior tibial tendonitis or other lower limb issues.
Sometimes a child needs to rest more—even during a key moment of a championship game—because they are dealing with an issue that makes them more tired than usual. This fatigue can happen when the body is working hard to fix damaged tissue.
Not participating at all
If the pain is strong enough, you might find yourself saying “But I thought you like playing…” And if all you get is a shrug in return, the problem could be foot-related. (Although, it’s best to follow up with additional questions to really find out what’s happening.)
Gait abnormality or changes
Everyone has a fairly distinguishable gait pattern. If you notice your child is walking differently—limping is a significant clue—there is likely a foot problem responsible.
Some children will try to hide injuries (for various reasons), but one giveaway for a broken foot bone is that they refuse to bear weight on the injured limb. That makes this something you should keep an eye out for after physical trauma—such as the previous example of a baseball striking a foot.
For some signs, you need an assist from your son or daughter:
A dull aching in the front of the lower leg
When your child comes to you with this particular complaint, it is rather probable that he or she has developed shin splints. Further symptoms to note include swelling, tenderness, and soreness along the shin bones.
The leading cause of heel pain for adolescents and teens is Sever’s disease. If this is a problem for your child, you can usually tell if you gently squeeze the back of the heel and it causes greater pain than you would expect.
Barely noticeable pain (in a generalized area)
In the early stages, stress fractures cause pain that is fairly mild. This pain will only increase in severity when left unaddressed. To keep this from happening, your child will need to take it easy for a little while as the bone tissue mends.