Sever's disease or Calcaneal apophysitis is a condition that affects children between the ages of 10 and 13 years. It is characterized by pain in one or both heels with walking. During this phase of life, growth of the bone is taking place at a faster rate than the tendons. Hence there is a relative shortening of the heel-cord compared to the leg bones. As a result, the tension the heel-cord applies to the heel bone at its insertion is very great. Moreover, the heel cord is attached to a portion of the calcaneus (heel bone) that is still immature, consisting of a mixture of bone and growing cartilage, called the calcaneal apophysis, which is prone to injury. Compounding to this is the fact that all these changes are happening in a very active child, prone to overuse. The end result is therefore an overuse syndrome of injury and inflammation at the heel where the heel cord (Achilles Tendonitis) inserts into the heel bone (Calcaneal apophysitis).
Mechanically, the heel takes a beating. And the apophyseal bone is located near the point of impact for the heel bone at heel strike and with most weight bearing activities. This includes running, jumping and walking. Heavy impact activities like soccer, football and gymnastics are commonly associated with this problem. In addition to this, there is traction on this apophyseal bone and the associated physeal line of growth cartilage. This traction on the apopysis (island of bone) along with the impact of weight bearing activities can lead to inflammation and pain. Tight Achilles and calf muscles also can contribute to this problem, and why stretching is discussed later.
The most prominent symptom of Sever's disease is heel pain which is usually aggravated by physical activity such as walking, running or jumping. The pain is localised to the posterior and plantar side of the heel over the calcaneal apophysis. Sometimes, the pain may be so severe that it may cause limping and interfere with physical performance in sports. External appearance of the heel is almost always normal, and signs of local disease such as edema, erythema (redness) are absent. The main diagnostic tool is pain on medial- lateral compression of the calcaneus in the area of growth plate, so called squeeze test. Foot radiographs are usually normal. Therefore the diagnosis of Sever's disease is primarily clinical.
Sever condition is diagnosed by detecting the characteristic symptoms and signs above in the older children, particularly boys between 8 and 15 years of age. Sometimes X-ray testing can be helpful as it can occasionally demonstrate irregularity of the calcaneus bone at the point where the Achilles tendon attaches.
Non Surgical Treatment
The disease can be treated easily and is considered to be temporary, if treated promptly and correctly. If left untreated or if treated improperly, the disease can result in a permanent heel deformity, causing future shoe-fitting difficulties. Other long-term effects can include foot arch problems, potentially resulting in plantar fasciitis or heel spurs and tight calf musculature, which can lead to Achilles tendonitis. The American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons recommends the following steps, once Sever?s disease has been diagnosed. Reduce or stop any activity that causes pain. Temporary shoe inserts or custom orthotic devices may provide support for the heel. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may help reduce the pain and inflammation. Stretching and/or physical therapy may be used to promote healing. In severe cases, a cast may be used to keep the foot and ankle immobilized during the healing process.
If the child has a pronated foot, a flat or high arch, or another condition that increases the risk of Sever's disease, the doctor might recommend special shoe inserts, called orthotic devices, such as heel pads that cushion the heel as it strikes the ground, heel lifts that reduce strain on the Achilles tendon by raising the heel, arch supports that hold the heel in an ideal position. If a child is overweight or obese, the doctor will probably also recommend weight loss to decrease pressure on the heel. The risk of recurrence goes away on its own when foot growth is complete and the growth plate has fused to the rest of the heel bone, usually around age 15.