Sever?s disease, also referred to as calcaneal apophysitis, is an injury in the growth plate of the lower part of the heel bone where the Achilles tendon attaches to the bone. Sever?s disease is a common condition affecting children between the ages of 8 and 15 that participate in sports or are particularly active. This condition is believed to be caused by repeated trauma to the heel, weakening its internal structure. Typically occurring in adolescence, Sever?s disease causes painful inflammation of the growth plate. This condition can affect any child, however there is a higher probability of its occurrence if the child experiences pronation, has flat or high arches, short leg syndrome and/or is overweight.
A big tendon called the Achilles tendon joins the calf muscle at the back of the leg to the heel. Sever?s disease is thought to occur because of a mismatch in growth of the calf bones to the calf muscle and Achilles tendon. If the bones grow faster than the muscles, the Achilles tendon that attaches the muscle to the heel gets tight. At the same time, until the cartilage of the calcaneum is ossified (turned into bone), it is a potential weak spot. The tight calf muscle and Achilles tendon cause a traction injury on this weak spot, resulting in inflammation and pain. Sever?s disease most commonly affects boys aged ten to 12 years and girls aged nine to 11 years, when growth spurts are beginning. Sever?s disease heals itself with time, so it is known as ?self-limiting?. There is no evidence to suggest that Sever?s disease causes any long-term problems or complications.
The main symptom of sever’s disease is pain and tenderness at the back of the heel which is made worse with physical activity. Tenderness will be felt especially if you press in or give the back of the heel a squeeze from the sides. There may be a lump over the painful area. Another sign is tight calf muscles resulting with reduced range of motion at the ankle. Pain may go away after a period of rest from sporting activities only to return when the young person goes back to training.
A physical exam of the heel will show tenderness over the back of the heel but not in the Achilles tendon or plantar fascia. There may be tightness in the calf muscle, which contributes to tension on the heel. The tendons in the heel get stretched more in patients with flat feet. There is greater impact force on the heels of athletes with a high-arched, rigid foot. The doctor may order an x-ray because x-rays can confirm how mature the growth center is and if there are other sources of heel pain, such as a stress fracture or bone cyst. However, x-rays are not necessary to diagnose Sever?s disease, and it is not possible to make the diagnosis based on the x-ray alone.
Non Surgical Treatment
Sever?s disease will go away on its own with rest or after heel bone growth is complete, usually within 2 to 8 weeks after the heel pain or discomfort appears. Sever?s disease is not expected to cause long-term problems, though symptoms may linger for up to several years in severe cases. Certain conservative care measures may be helpful in treating this health problem, including avoiding activities that provoke pain or discomfort, elevating the leg while at rest, performing hamstring and calf muscle stretches two to three times per day, undergoing physical therapy, using cold therapy, using an elastic wrap or compression stocking, Avoiding footwear with heel elevation, toe spring, and toe taper, and instead favoring footwear that?s completely flat and widest at the ends of the toes. More aggressive treatment measures, including over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication (e.g. ibuprofen), steroid injections, and surgery, may be indicated in certain cases. Addressing the footwear component of this health problem is an important part of a well-rounded Sever?s disease treatment plan. Optimal footwear for preventing or treating this problem is flat, wide (widest at the ends of the toes), and flexible in the sole. Open-back footwear (such as certain Crocs models) may be particularly helpful for kids and teens with Sever?s disease.
The old adage, “An once of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” is most appropriate when trying to prevent the effects of Sever’s Disease. If this condition is not prevented, or treated in its earliest stages, it may cause the child to stop certain sports activities until the growth plate has fused and matured (this usually occurs around the age of 16 years old). Long Term Treatment and Prevention must be directed towards protecting the growth plate at the back of the heel during a child’s growing years. Being aware of the following best does this. If the child is very active in sports that require repetitive and exertive activities, then the parents must be vigilant when it comes to the child’s gait, watching to see if he or she is limping, walking on their toes, or complaining of heel pain when weight-bearing. These may be “early warning signs” of Sever’s Disease. Along with these signs, if your child has any of the Predisposing Hereditary Factors listed above, the chances of Sever’s Disease occurring increased.