Foot pain in young people can be caused by a variety of problems including shoes that don't fit properly, foot and ankle deformities, injuries, infections and Severs Disease.
Sever's disease is a common cause of heel pain in adolescents, but the pain is usually temporary with no lasting effects. It is often diagnosed after a heel injury, which can occur during growth spurts.
"Sever's is very typical in young people that are eight to 12 years of age who are active in sports," said podiatrist Olga Luepschen, a board-certified wound specialist who has been treating patients of all ages in Highlands County for 11 years.
She said that while this pediatric disease tended to be more prevalent in males, with more girls getting involved in all types of sports and cheerleading now both girls and boys are equally affected.
Sever's disease is caused when the heel bone grows faster than leg muscles and tendons, causing overstretching and the subsequent pain.
Treatments include rest, physical therapy, and medications for the inflammation and pain.
Some of the warning signs that children might be experiencing a foot problem that needs a doctor's care might be a loss of interest in activity, complaints of pain or an inability to keep up with classmates.
"We can prevent a lot of problems by parents buying one very good-fitting shoe, instead of four or five for style," said Luepschen, who sees ingrown toenails, blisters, sores, corns and even hammer toes caused by shoes that are too tight or not properly fitted.
"You don't need expensive shoes for them to be supportive and fit well," said Luepschen. She explained that a firm heel counter (back section of the shoe) and the proper amount of flexibility are the two most important things to look for in a good product.
"You want some bending, but not excessive," said the bilingual physician, who does offer insert supports and orthopedic shoes at her facility, Gentle Foot Care Center.
Luepschen also treats children for foot, toe and ankle deformities, neuropathy, fractures, tumors, infections, funguses, calluses, warts, and hyperhydrosis, an excessive sweating that can cause pungent foot odor.
Hyperhydrosis can be effectively treated with prescription topical lotions.
While a child should have their first podiatrist visit when they begin school, Luepschen said that if a child is experiencing foot, lower leg or ankle pain that interferes with their daily activities, they need to be evaluated by a doctor.
A thorough examination of a newborn's foot is also important. With 26 to 28 bones in a baby's foot, it is beneficial to diagnosis and treat deformities like club foot, in-toeing and out-toeing early in a child's development.
Flat feet may begin to show up in children 2 to 3 years old when the tendons in the feet are loose and don't tighten to form a normal arch.
If there is no pain, there is usually no need for treatment, but orthotic arch-supports or special shoes might be prescribed for painful cases.
Another painful but rare form of flat feet in children is called tarsal coalition, caused when two or more of the bones in the foot grow together. In severe cases, surgery may be needed.
Gentle Foot Care's pediatric patients that need surgery are often referred to All Children's or Shriners Hospitals for Children.
Injuries, warts from viruses and funguses can occur when people walk barefoot around pools, in public parks or locker rooms. School-aged children may be susceptible to problems like toenail fungus and athletes foot when they begin taking gym class.
Luepschen also treats diabetic children and recommends that proper foot care should include a daily inspection of feet for blisters, hot spots, ingrown nails or dry skin. She said that while lotion may be used on dry feet, it should never be applied between the toes.
Exercise will improve blood flow to the feet and can promote healing.
"There is a concern over infection with in-grown toenails," said Luepschen.
She can treat difficult wounds at Florida Hospital's Wound Care Center with therapies like a hyperbaric chamber to stimulate healing with a saturation of oxygen.
Gentle Foot Care Center is located at 2 Ryant Blvd. in Sebring, and is recognizabe from the road by the green foot-shaped sign on U.S. 27. The facility is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 5 p.m. The office offers digital X-rays, custom shoes, socks, and arch and heel supports.
For more information on pediatric foot care, contact Luepschen at 314-9255.