Although the name might sound pretty frightening, Sever’s disease is really a common heel injury that occurs in kids. It can be painful, but is only temporary and has no long-term effects. Sever’s disease, also called calcaneal apophysitis, 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, which is how bones grow. Sever’s disease is a common cause of heel pain in growing kids, especially those who are physically active. It usually occurs during the growth spurt of adolescence, the approximately 2-year period in early puberty when kids grow most rapidly. This growth spurt can begin any time between the ages of 8 and 13 for girls and 10 and 15 for boys. Sever’s disease rarely occurs in older teens because the back of the heel usually finishes growing by the age of 15, when the growth plate hardens and the growing bones fuse together into mature bone. Sever’s disease is similar to Osgood-Schlatter disease, a condition that affects the bones in the knees.
There are several theories surrounding the cause of Sever?s disease. These range from a tight Achilles tendon, to micro stress fractures of the heel, to biomechanical mal-alignment, to trauma, to flat feet, and even to obesity. But the prevailing theory suggests the onset of Sever?s disease occurs when the child’s growth plate is at its weakest, while a tightened Achilles tendon pulls repeatedly on the growth plate, such as during AGS.
Sever?s disease is a clinical diagnosis based on the youth?s presenting symptoms, rather than on diagnostic tests. While x-rays may be ordered in the process of diagnosing the disease, they are used primarily to rule out bone fractures or other bone abnormalities, rather than to confirm the disease. Common Characteristics of Sever?s Disease include Posterior inferior heel pain. Pain is usually absent when waking in the morning. Increased pain with weight bearing, running, or jumping (or activity-related pain). Area often feels stiff or inflexible. Youth may limp at the end of physical activity. Tenderness at the insertion of the tendons. Limited ankle dorsiflexion range that is secondary to tightness of the Achilles tendon. Activity or sport practices on hard surfaces can also contribute to pain, as well as poor quality shoes, worn out shoes, or the wrong shoes for the sport. Typically, the pain from this disease gradually resolves with rest.
Sever disease is most often diagnosed clinically, and radiographic evaluation is believed to be unnecessary by many physicians, but if a diagnosis of calcaneal apophysitis is made without obtaining radiographs, a lesion requiring more aggressive treatment could be missed. Foot radiographs are usually normal and the radiologic identification of calcaneal apophysitis without the absence of clinical information was not reliable.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment for Sever?s disease is mainly supportive, to stop inflammation and reduce pain. The condition will resolve on its own when the growth in the growth plate is complete, but until then, measures can be taken to resolve pain and discomfort. Applying ice to the painful or swollen areas on the foot may provide some short-term relief from pain and prevent further inflammation. Ice can be applied for about 20 minutes two or three times a day. Footwear that is too big, too small, or does not provide proper support can exacerbate the symptoms of Sever?s disease. Supportive footwear is important to prevent discomfort, especially in children who participate in sports and activities that take place on a hard surface (such as pavement or a basketball court). Shoes should also have adequate padding and not rub against the heel. In some cases, shoes that do not have heels (such as sandals) may be more comfortable to wear while the heel is healing, but care should be taken that the shoe provides proper support to the rest of the foot. Children with Sever?s disease should avoid going barefoot.Children with flat feet, high arches, or over-pronation may need treatment to resolve these underlying conditions. In many cases, an orthotic worn inside the shoe can help put the foot into a better alignment and provide relief to the foot or the arch. Children who are overweight or obese may be counseled to lose weight. Being overweight can contribute to the development of several conditions, including Sever?s disease. Resting the foot and discontinuing sports and other activities until the pain and stiffness is resolved may be recommended. In extreme cases, a walking boot or a cast might be used to completely immobilize the foot. A physical therapist may recommend stretching exercises for the muscles in the calf and the Achilles tendon. A stretching routine is usually done several times a day. Stretching these muscles can help improve strength and decrease the stress on the heel plate. Some physicians may recommend over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Care must be taken when administering these medications to children, especially with acetaminophen, as overdoses are possible when using more than one medication containing acetaminophen. Aspirin should never be given to children. The utility of pain relievers in children must be weighed against their possible side effects. For small variations-less than an inch or so-shoe lifts can help equalize the length of the legs. In cases with more variation between legs, surgical solutions may be considered. Research indicates that targeted manual therapy techniques performed by a licensed physical therapist can help to reduce pain from Sever?s Disease and to improve muscle function. When the larger calf muscles and the smaller ankle and foot muscles become tight, this tightness can affect the mechanics of the ankle joint. Manual therapy includes both joint and muscle release techniques to restore optimal function to the calf, ankle, and foot muscles, and results can generally be achieved within a few months.