Sever’s disease, also called calcaneal apophysitis, is a painful bone disorder that results from inflammation (swelling) of the growth plate in the heel. A growth plate, also called an epiphyseal plate, is an area at the end of a developing bone where cartilage cells change over time into bone cells. As this occurs, the growth plates expand and unite, which is how bones grow. Sever’s disease is a common cause of heel pain in growing kids, especially those who are physically active. It usually occurs during the growth spurt of adolescence, the approximately 2-year period in early puberty when kids grow most rapidly. This growth spurt can begin any time between the ages of 8 and 13 for girls and 10 and 15 for boys. Sever’s disease rarely occurs in older teens because the back of the heel usually finishes growing by the age of 15, when the growth plate hardens and the growing bones fuse together into mature bone. Sever’s disease is similar to Osgood-Schlatter disease, a condition that affects the bones in the knees.
Predisposing Hereditary Factors: These are a biomechanical defect that one may be born with, which increases the chances of developing Sever’s Disease. Short Achilles Tendon, When the Achilles Tendon is short from birth, it will exaggerate the tightness of this tendon that occurs during a child’s growing years. This makes the pull of the Achilles Tendon on the heel’s growth plate more forceful than normal, causing inflammation and pain, and eventually Sever’s Disease. Short Leg Syndrome, When one leg is shorter than the other, the foot on the short leg must plantar flex (the foot and toes bend down) in order to reach the ground. In this way, the body tries to equalize the length of the legs. In order for the foot to plantar flex, the Achilles Tendon must pull on the heel with greater force than if the leg was a normal length. Thus the heel on the short leg will be more susceptible to Sever’s Disease during the foot’s growing years. Pronation. Is a biomechanical defect of the foot that involves a rolling outward of the foot at the ankle, so that when walking, the inner side of the heel and foot bears more of the body’s weight than is normal (click here for more information about pronation). Pronation thus causes the heel to be tilted or twisted. In order for the Achilles Tendon to attach to the heel, it must twist to reach its normal attachment site. This will shorten or tighten the Achilles Tendon and increase the force of its pull on the heel’s growth plate. This will increase the tightness of the Achilles Tendon during the foot’s growing years, and may help to initiate bouts of Sever’s Disease. Flat Arches and High Arches. Both of these biomechanical foot defects effect the pitch, or angle of the heel within the foot. When the heel is not positioned normally within the foot due to the height of the arch, the Achilles Tendon’s attachment to the heel is affected. This may produce a shortening or tightening of the Achilles Tendon, which increases the force of its pull on the heel’s growth plate. During the foot’s growing years, abnormal arch height may contribute to the onset of Sever’s Disease.
The patient complains of activity related pain that usually settles with rest. On Examination the heel bone – or calcaneum – is tender on one or both sides. The gastrocnemius and soleus muscles (calf muscles) may be tight and bending of the ankle might be limited because of that. Foot pronation (rolling in) often exacerbates the problem. There is rarely anything to see and with no redness or swelling and a pain that comes and goes mum and dad often wait before seeking advice on this condition. The pain may come on partway through a game and get worse or come at the end of the game. Initially pain will be related only to activity but as it gets worse the soreness will still be there the next morning and the child might limp on first getting up.
A doctor can usually tell that a child has Sever’s disease based on the symptoms reported. To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor will probably examine the heels and ask about the child’s activity level and participation in sports. The doctor might also use the squeeze test, squeezing the back part of the heel from both sides at the same time to see if doing so causes pain. The doctor might also ask the child to stand on tiptoes to see if that position causes pain. Although imaging tests such as X-rays generally are not that helpful in diagnosing Sever’s disease, some doctors order them to rule out other problems, such as fractures. Sever’s disease cannot be seen on an X-ray.
Non Surgical Treatment
The doctor will talk with you about the best treatment plan for your child. As instructed, your child will Ice the heel 3-4 times a day for 15-20 minutes at a time. Use an ice pack or bag of frozen peas, or something similar. Never put ice directly on your child’s skin. A thin cloth or towel should be between your child?s skin and the ice pack. Take anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen, as directed. Decrease the amount of running and jumping he or she does. Stretch the heels and calves, as instructed by the doctor. Regular stretching can help prevent Sever?s from coming back. Use a ?heel cup? or a cushioned shoe insert that takes pressure off the heel. In some cases, a cast is placed on the foot and worn for several weeks.