Sever’s disease, also known as calcaneal apophysitis, is a medical condition that causes heel pain in one or both feet of children during the period when their feet are growing. Sever’s disease occurs most commonly in boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 14 years of age. Sever’s disease occurs when the part of the child’s heel known as the growth plate, or the calcaneal epiphysis, an area attached to the Achilles tendon, suffers an injury or when the muscles and tendons of the growing foot do not keep pace with bone growth. The result is constant pain experienced at the back of the heel and the inability to put any weight on the heel, forcing the child to bear weight on their toes while walking. A toe gait develops in which the child must change the way they walk to avoid placing weight on the painful heel, a position that can lead to other developmental problems.
The calcaneal apophysis develops as an independent center of ossification (possibly multiple). It appears in boys aged 9-10 years and fuses by age 17 years, it appears in girls at slightly younger ages. During the rapid growth surrounding puberty, the apophyseal line appears to be weakened further because of increased fragile calcified cartilage. Microfractures are believed to occur because of shear stress leading to the normal progression of fracture healing. This theory explains the clinical picture and the radiographic appearance of resorption, fragmentation, and increased sclerosis leading to eventual union. The radiographs showing fragmentation of the apophysis are not diagnostic, because multiple centers of ossification may exist in the normal apophysis, as noted. However, the degree of involvement in children displaying the clinical symptoms of Sever disease appears to be more pronounced. In a study of 56 male students from a soccer academy, of whom 28 had Sever disease and 28 were healthy control subjects, findings suggested that higher heel plantar pressures under dynamic and static conditions were associated with Sever disease, though it was not established whether the elevated pressures predisposed to or resulted from the disease. Gastrocnemius ankle equinus also appeared to be a predisposing factor.
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.
It is not difficult for a doctor to diagnose Sever’s disease in a youngster or teenager. A personal history and a physical examination are usually all it takes to determine the cause of heel pain.
Non Surgical Treatment
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.
For children with Sever’s disease, it is important to habitually perform exercises to stretch the hamstrings, calf muscles, and the tendons on the back of the leg. Stretching should be performed 2-3 times a day. Each stretch should be performed for 20 seconds, and both legs should be stretched, even if the pain is only in one heel. Heel cups or an inner shoe heel lifts are often recommended for patient suffering from Sever’s disease. Wearing running shoes with built in heel cups can also decrease the symptoms because they can help soften the impact on the heel when walking, running, or standing.