Sever’s Disease is not a disease in the sense of an infection or other chronic pathology but is an injury/irritation of a growth plate. The Calcaneal growth plate or growth plate in the heel bone has attachments from the achilles tendon and the plantar fascia. Pull from either or both of these structures can cause enough motion within the apophysis or growth plate space to create irritation and inflammation which can be quite painful and limiting. This can start when the growth plate is still wide open but is more often seen as the growth plate starts to close further limiting its ability to move with the traction of soft tissue attachments. It was believed by Sever that fractures within the growth plate were the source of the discomfort. When looking at a growth plate that has started to close it can appear to be fragmented into 2 or 3 pieces. It has since been proven that this is the normal appearance of a closing growth plate.
During the growth spurt of early puberty, the heel bone (also called the calcaneus) sometimes grows faster than the leg muscles and tendons. This can cause the muscles and tendons to become very tight and overstretched, making the heel less flexible and putting pressure on the growth plate. The Achilles tendon (also called the heel cord) is the strongest tendon that attaches to the growth plate in the heel. Over time, repeated stress (force or pressure) on the already tight Achilles tendon damages the growth plate, causing the swelling, tenderness, and pain of Sever’s disease. Such stress commonly results from physical activities and sports that involve running and jumping, especially those that take place on hard surfaces, such as track, basketball, soccer, and gymnastics.
Adolescents suffering from Sever?s disease usually complain of pain at the back of their heel which is often worse after exercising. It is most common between the ages of 10-12 in boys and 8-10 in girls due to the rapid growth spurts that occur during this time. It can however happen anytime up until the age of 15. Whilst most people present with pain worse in one foot, it is very common to have symptoms in both feet.
Low-grade inflammation of the calcaneal apophysis cannot be seen on x-ray. Therefore, although x-rays are often done to rule out bony injuries in children with Sever’s disease these x-rays are usually normal. Advanced Sever’s disease can be seen on x-ray but usually the problem is treated before it reaches this point. Other diagnostic tests, such as bone scans or MRI’s, are not usually required in typical cases of Sever’s disease. These, or other tests, may be required to rule out other conditions, such as stress fractures of the calcaneus or other bony abnormalities that can mimic Severs disease.
Non Surgical Treatment
Traditional treatment involved simply telling children that they can?t play sport for a year. This is not popular for children or parents and abstaining from sport leads to other problems when wanting to return. Treatments focus on improving foot and lower limb function with footwear selection, heel raises, calf stretching, prescription orthoses, run technique training and training modifications. This results in a reduced load through the growth plate and the child can perform more activity before the growth plate becomes inflamed. Rest will always reduce the Sever?s disease symptoms, however this is always the last option.
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.