Doctors with the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons (ACFAS) say they’re noticing more and more overweight and obese children with foot and ankle pain in their examining rooms, mirroring a national epidemic of childhood obesity.
An estimated 16 percent of U.S. children ages six to 19 are overweight. Poor diet, lack of exercise and genetics can play a role. A “vicious cycle” of foot pain and obesity traps some children.
“You want overweight children to exercise and lose weight, but because of their weight, their feet hurt and they can’t exercise,” says Thanh Dinh, DPM, FACFAS, a foot and ankle surgeon in Boston.
The foot is a complex structure consisting of 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. Last November, researchers in Britain reported, “alarming new evidence that childhood obesity changes foot structure and results in instability when walking.” Being overweight flattens the foot, straining the plantar fascia, a band of tissue which runs from the heel to the base of the toes, causing heel pain.
Because the heel bone is not fully developed until age 14 or older, overweight children are more prone to Sever’s disease. Although not an actual disease, according to FootPhysicians.com, it involves an inflammation of the heel’s growth plate due to muscle strain and repetitive stress. Walking makes the pain worse. Being overweight may also cause stress fractures, or hairline fractures (breaks) in a child’s heel bone.