Overview

Sever’s Disease, also known as calcaneal apophysitis, is a disease of the growth plate of the bone and is characterized by pain in the heel of a child’s foot, typically brought on by some form of injury or trauma. This condition is most common in children ages 10 to 15 and is frequently seen in active soccer, football, or baseball players. Sport shoes with cleats are also known to aggravate the condition. The disease mimics Achilles tendonitis, an inflammation of the tendon attached to the back of the heel. A tight Achilles tendon contributes to Sever’s Disease by pulling excessively on the growth plate of the heel bone (calcaneus). Treatment includes cutting back on sports activities, calf muscle stretching exercises, heel cushions in the shoes, icing, and/or anti-inflammatory medications.

Causes

The cause of Sever’s Disease is not entirely clear but it is most likely due to repeated minor trauma that occurs during high-impact activities that involve running and jumping such as soccer, basketball, and gymnastics. It may also occur when an active child regularly wears shoes with poor heel padding, shock absorbency, or poor arch support. Some additional contributing factors are excessive pronation, an overly tight calf muscle, and other flaws in the biomechanics of a child’s walking stride. Children who are overweight are also at greater risk of developing Sever’s Disease.

Symptoms

Sharp pain will be present in the affected heel (or both heels), especially while running or walking. Pain can be heightened following activity. The area will be tender to the touch and usually becomes inflamed or reddened. It may also be painful to press on the heel with a finger from the back or to squeeze the sides together; the latter is particularly common. You might notice stiffness in some of the surrounding muscles, making regular movements more difficult to achieve. This and the pain can manifest physically in abnormal practices like tiptoeing or limping. In some cases a lump can be detected on the back of the heel, though it may be so small as to defy detection.

Diagnosis

Sever’s disease is based on the symptoms reported. To confirm the diagnosis, the clinician will examine the heels and ask about the child’s activity level and participation in sports. They may also squeeze the back part of the heel from both sides at the same time to see if doing so causes pain and also ask the child to stand on tiptoes to see if that position causes pain. There may be tightness in the calf muscle, which contributes to tension on the heel. Symptoms are usually worse during or after activity and get better with rest. X-rays generally are not that helpful in diagnosing Sever’s disease, but they may be ordered to rule out other problems, such as fractures. Sever’s disease cannot be seen on an X-ray.

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.

Surgical Treatment

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.