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.
Sever?s is often present at a time of rapid growth in adolescent athletic children. At this time the muscles and tendons become tighter as the bones become larger. Between 8 – 15 years of age is the usual onset of this condition.
Signs and symptoms of Sever?s disease include heel pain can be in one or both heels, and it can come and go over time. Many children walk or run with a limp, they may walk on their toes to avoid pressure on their heels. Heel pain may increase with running or jumping, wearing stiff, hard shoes (ex. soccer cleats, flip-flops) or walking barefoot. The pain may begin after increasing physical activity, such as trying a new sport or starting a new sports season.
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
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.
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.