Addressing Severs Disease

Overview

The true name of this complaint is calcaneal apophysitis which just means an inflamation of the growth centre of the bone in your heel as a result of pulling by the Achilles tendon – it is important to realise that it is not a disease but rather a condition that develops in the growing skeleton with activity. It is the most common cause of heel pain in young athletes, and is the second most common condition of its kind in the younger athelete after Osgood-Schlatter’s disease. It is often seen at a time of rapid growth during which the muscles and soft tissues become tighter as the bones get longer. It occurs more in boys than girls and is seen most commonly between the ages of 8 and 14 years though it tends to be more prevalent in the younger of this group.

Causes

Sever’s disease usually develops as a result of overuse and is common in active children between the ages of 8 to 12. Activities that involve running or jumping can cause undue stress on the calcaneal apophysis. This in turn leads to the development of microscopic damage to the calcaneal apophysis resulting in inflammation and pain. Poor flexibility of the calf muscles and of the Achilles tendon, overpronation (feet rolled in) and inappropriate footwear are some of the other factors that can cause Sever’s disease.

Symptoms

This syndrome can occur unilaterally or bilaterally. The incidence of bilaterally is approximately 60%. Common signs and symptoms include posterior inferior heel pain (over the medial and lateral surface of the bone). Pain is usually absent when the child gets up in the morning. Increased pain with weight bearing, running or jumping (= activity-related pain). The area often feels stiff. The child may limp at the end of physical activity. Tenderness at the insertion of the tendons (= an avascular necrosis of the arthropathy). Limited ankle dorsiflexion range secondary to tightness of the Achilles tendon. Hard surfaces and poor-quality or worn-out athletic shoes contribute to increased symptoms. The pain gradually resolves with rest. Reliability or validity of methods used to obtain the ankle joint dorsiflexion or biomechanical malalignment data are not commented upon, thus reducing the quality of the data. Although pain and limping are mentioned as symptomatic traits, there have been no attempts to quantify the pain or its effect on the individual.

Diagnosis

Children or adolescents who are experiencing pain and discomfort in their feet should be evaluated by a physician. In some cases, no imaging tests are needed to diagnose Sever?s disease. A podiatrist or other healthcare professional may choose to order an x-ray or imaging study, however, to ensure that there is no other cause for the pain, such as a fracture. Sever?s disease will not show any findings on an x-ray because it affects cartilage.

Non Surgical Treatment

Occasionally, an orthotic may need to be prescribed for temporary or long-term correction of their foot biomechanics (eg flat feet or high arches). During the acute phase of Sever’s disease a small heel rise or shock-absorbing heel cup placed under the heel pad of your child’s foot may help to ease the symptoms. Your podiatrist or physiotherapist can assess your child’s arch and guide you in the best management of your child’s condition. We recommend that your child should never go barefooted during the painful stages of Sever’s disease.

Exercise

Stretching exercises can help. It is important that your child performs exercises to stretch the hamstring and calf muscles, and the tendons on the back of the leg. The child should do these stretches 2 or 3 times a day. Each stretch should be held for about 20 seconds. Both legs should be stretched, even if the pain is only in 1 heel. Your child also needs to do exercises to strengthen the muscles on the front of the shin. To do this, your child should sit on the floor, keeping his or her hurt leg straight. One end of a bungee cord or piece of rubber tubing is hooked around a table leg. The other end is hitched around the child’s toes. The child then scoots back just far enough to stretch the cord. Next, the child slowly bends the foot toward his or her body. When the child cannot bend the foot any closer, he or she slowly points the foot in the opposite direction (toward the table). This exercise (15 repetitions of “foot curling”) should be done about 3 times. The child should do this exercise routine a few times daily.