Sever's disease is a common cause of heel pain, particularly in the young and physically active. During puberty the calcaneus consist of two areas of bone known as ossification centres. These two areas are divided by an area of cartilage known as the calcaneal apophysitis. See x-ray (right) for two ossification centres of heel. The Achilles tendon attaches the triceps surae (calf muscles) to the calcaneus (heel bone). As a child grows the calcaneus grow faster than the surrounding soft tissue, which means the Achilles tendon is pulled uncomfortably tight. This increase in tensile load can cause inflammation and irritation of the calcaneal apophysis (growth plate) which is known as Sever's Disease. The pain is exacerbated by physical activities, especially ones involving running or jumping. Sever's disease most commonly affects boys aged 12 to 14 years and girls aged 10 to 12 years, which corresponds with the early growth spurts of puberty.
Heel pain is very common in children because of the very nature of their growing feet and legs. In children, the heel bone (the calcaneus) is not fully developed until the age of 14 or older. Until then, new bone is forming at the growth plate of the foot (the apophysis, located at the back of the heel), an area which is softer than others due to its role in accommodating the growth. Repetitive stress on the growth plate due to walking, running and sports causes inflammation in the heel area. Because the heel's growth plate is sensitive, repeated running and pounding on hard surfaces can result in pediatric heel pain. Children and adolescents involved in football, soccer, running or basketball are especially vulnerable. Over-pronation (fallen arches and rolling inwards of the feet) will increase the stress on the growth plate and is therefore a significant cause and a major contributing factor to heel pain in children.
The most common symptoms of Sever?s involves pain or tenderness in one or both heels. This pain usually occurs at the back of the heel, but can also extend to the sides and bottom of the heel. A child with Sever?s may also have these common problems. Heel pain with limping, especially after running. Difficulty walking. Discomfort or stiffness in the feet upon awaking. Swelling and redness in the heel. Symptoms are usually worse during or after activity and get better with rest.
This condition is self limiting, it will go away when the two parts of bony growth join together, this is natural. Unfortunately, Sever's disease can be very painful and limit sport activity of the child while waiting for it to go away, so treatment is often advised to help relieve it. In a few cases of Sever's disease, the treatment is not successful and these children will be restricted in their activity levels until the two growth areas join, usually around the age of 16 years. There are no known long term complications associated with Sever's disease.
Non Surgical Treatment
There is nothing you can do to stop severs disease. It will stop when you finish growing. However the following will help to relieve the symptoms. Rest. Cut down on the time you spend playing sport until the pain has gone. Avoid sports that involve a lot of running or jumping. Swimming can be a useful alternative. Ice the affected area for ten to 15 minutes, especially after activity. Make sure you protect the skin by wrapping the ice in a towel. Elevate (raise) the leg when painful and swollen especially after sports. Pain relieving medication may reduce pain and swelling, but you need to discuss options with a pharmacist or GP. Always wear shoes. Avoid activities in bare feet. Choose a supportive shoe with the laces done up.
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.