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.
Severs disease is caused by repetitive excessive force to the growing area of the heel bone, causing injury to this area. The calf muscles (soleus and gastrocnemius) are attached by the Achilles tendon to the calcaneus (heel bone). They exert a huge force during running , jumping and landing. In children, there is a growing area in the heel bone called the apophysis and is made of relatively weak cartilage. If there is excessive force at this relatively weak point damage occurs. This excess force can be caused by a number of factors. During the adolescent growth spurt the bones grow very quickly. The muscles do not grow out at the same rate as the bone grows and so can become very tight. The calf muscles generate huge forces when they are used to run, jump and land. This force is transmitted to the calcaneal apophysis (growth area). The gastrocnemius muscle spans both the ankle and knee joint. Tightness of this or any other muscles of the lower limb (hamstring or quadriceps) cause extra force at the growing (weak) area. In active children, who undertake a lot of exercise, the repetitive high force causes damage. If your child has poor biomechanics due to poor lower limb alignment (often caused by flat feet), the muscles of the lower limb have to work excessively hard and this can cause increased force at the tibial tubercle.
Patients with Severs disease typically experience pain that develops gradually in the back of the heel or Achilles region. In less severe cases, patients may only experience an ache or stiffness in the heel that increases with rest (especially at night or first thing in the morning). This typically occurs following activities which require strong or repetitive contraction of the calf muscles, such as running (especially uphill) or during sports involving running, jumping or hopping. The pain associated with this condition may also warm up with activity in the initial stages of the condition. As the condition progresses, patients may experience symptoms that increase during activity and affect performance. Pain may also increase when performing a calf stretch or heel raise (i.e. rising up onto tip toes). In severe cases, patients may walk with a limp, have difficulty putting their heel down, or be unable to weight bear on the affected leg. Pain may also increase on firmly touching the affected region and occasionally a bony lump may be palpable or visible at the back of the heel. This condition typically presents gradually overtime and can affect either one or both lower limbs.
Sever?s disease can be diagnosed based on your history and symptoms. Clinically, your physiotherapist will perform a "squeeze test" and some other tests to confirm the diagnosis. Some children suffer Sever?s disease even though they do less exercise than other. This indicates that it is not just training volume that is at play. Foot and leg biomechanics are a predisposing factor. The main factors thought to predispose a child to Sever?s disease include decrease ankle dorsiflexion, abnormal hind foot motion eg overpronation or supination, tight calf muscles, excessive weight-bearing activities eg running.
Non Surgical Treatment
Sever?s disease treatment should be based on eliminating pain and restoring normal foot and leg biomechanics. As with most soft tissue injuries the initial treatment is Rest, Ice, and Protect. In the early phase you?ll most likely be unable to walk pain-free. Our first aim is to provide you with some active rest from pain-provoking activities. "No Pain. No Gain." does not apply in Sever's disease. If it hurts your child is doing too much exercise. Your child should reduce or cease any activity that causes heel pain. Ice is a simple and effective modality to reduce your pain and swelling. Please apply for 20-30 minutes each 2 to 4 hours during the initial phase or when you notice that your injury is warm or hot. Most children can tolerate paracetamol as a pain reducing medication. Check with your doctor. To support and protect your heels, you may need to be wear shock absorbing heel cups or a soft orthotic. Kinesio foot taping may help to provide pain relief. Your physiotherapist will guide you and utilise a range of pain relieving techniques including joint mobilisations for stiff ankle or subtalar joints, massage or electrotherapy to assist you during this pain-full phase.
The surgeon may select one or more of the following options to treat calcaneal apophysitis. Reduce activity. The child needs to reduce or stop any activity that causes pain. Support the heel. Temporary shoe inserts or custom orthotic devices may provide support for the heel. Medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, help reduce the pain and inflammation. Physical therapy. Stretching or physical therapy modalities are sometimes used to promote healing of the inflamed issue. Immobilization. In some severe cases of pediatric heel pain, a cast may be used to promote healing while keeping the foot and ankle totally immobile. Often heel pain in children returns after it has been treated because the heel bone is still growing. Recurrence of heel pain may be a sign of calcaneal apophysitis, or it may indicate a different problem. If your child has a repeat bout of heel pain, be sure to make an appointment with your foot and ankle surgeon.