Sever’s disease is commonly found in young athletes during early puberty. It is a form of aphophysitis, an inflammatory condition of the growth plate that sits below the insertion of a tendon. In the case of Sever’s, the Achilles tendon places tension on the growth plate of the calcaneus (or heel bone). Sever’s disease is common in sports like soccer, volleyball, football, basketball and gymnastics, as jumping and running typically exacerbate the condition. Symptoms of Sever’s are heel pain that may worsen with activity, and one may also notice a tiptoe gait as the athlete tries to take weight off the heel.
When a baby is born, most of the bones are still cartilage with only some starting to develop into bone. When the heel (calcaneus) starts to develop bone, there is generally one large area of development that starts in the center of the cartilage heel. This area of bone spreads to ‘fill up’ the cartilage. Another area of bone development (ossification) occurs at the back of the heel bone. These two areas of developing bone will have an area of cartilage between them, this is how the bone grows in size. At around age 16, when growth is nearly complete, these two bony areas fuse together. Sever’s disease or calcaneal apophysitis is usually considered to be due to damage or a disturbance in this area of growth.
Pain symptoms usually begin after a child begins a new sport or sporting season, and can worsen with athletic activities that involve running and jumping. It is common for a child with Sever?s disease to walk with a limp. Increased activity can lead to heel cord tightness (Achilles Tendon), resulting in pressure on the apophysis of the calcaneus. This will cause irritation of the growth plate and sometimes swelling in the heel area thus producing pain. This usually occurs in the early stages of puberty.
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
Sever?s disease treatment should be based on eliminating pain and restoring normal foot and leg biomechanics. As with most soft tissue injuries the initial treatment is Rest, Ice, and Protect. In the early phase you?ll most likely be unable to walk pain-free. Our first aim is to provide you with some active rest from pain-provoking activities. “No Pain. No Gain.” does not apply in Sever’s disease. If it hurts your child is doing too much exercise. Your child should reduce or cease any activity that causes heel pain. Ice is a simple and effective modality to reduce your pain and swelling. Please apply for 20-30 minutes each 2 to 4 hours during the initial phase or when you notice that your injury is warm or hot. Most children can tolerate paracetamol as a pain reducing medication. Check with your doctor. To support and protect your heels, you may need to be wear shock absorbing heel cups or a soft orthotic. Kinesio foot taping may help to provide pain relief.
It is important to undertake correct warm ups and warm downs before and after exercise. This should include a stretching routine. It may be necessary to undertake additional stretching outside of sport, especially during stages of growth. Only playing one sport should be avoided. You should not allow your child to play through pain.