Sever?s disease is a common cause of heel pain in children especially in the young and physically active. Severs disease 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. It is very important that damage to the growth plate is avoided.
The cause of Sever’s disease is not entirely clear. It is most likely due to overuse or repeated minor trauma that happens in a lot of sporting activities – the cartilage join between the two parts of the bone can not take all the shear stress of the activities. Some children seem to be just more prone to it for an unknown reason – combine this with sport, especially if its on a hard surface and the risk of getting it increases. It can be almost epidemic at the start of some sports seasons, especially winter. At the start of winter, the grounds are often harder, but soften later. Children who are heavier are also at greater risk for developing calcaneal apophysitis.
Children aged between 8 to 13 years of age can experience Sever?s disease with girls being normally younger and boys slightly older. Sever?s disease normally involves the back of the heel bone becoming painful towards the end of intense or prolonged activity and can remain painful after the activity for a few hours. Severe cases can result in limping and pain that can even remain the next morning after sport.
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 aims are to reduce trauma to the heel, allow rest/recovery and prevent recurrence. Most cases are successfully treated using physiotherapy and exercises, eg to stretch the gastrocnemius-soleus complex, to mobilise the ankle mortise, subtalar joint and medial forefoot. Soft orthotics or heel cups. Advice on suitable athletic footwear. Other modes of treatment are in severe cases, temporarily limiting activity such as running and jumping. Ice and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which can reduce pain. In very severe cases, a short period of immobilisation (eg 2-3 weeks in a case in mild equinus position) has been suggested.
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.