Sever?s disease occurs in children when the growing part of the heel is injured. This growing part is called the growth plate. The foot is one of the first body parts to grow to full size. This usually occurs in early puberty. During this time, bones often grow faster than muscles and tendons. As a result, muscles and tendons become ?tight.? The heel area is less flexible. During weight-bearing activity (activity performed while standing), the tight heel tendons may put too much pressure at the back of the heel (where the Achilles tendon attaches). This may injure the heel.
Severs disease is caused by repetitive excessive force to the growing area of the heel bone, causing injury to this area. The calf muscles (soleus and gastrocnemius) are attached by the Achilles tendon to the calcaneus (heel bone). They exert a huge force during running , jumping and landing. In children, there is a growing area in the heel bone called the apophysis and is made of relatively weak cartilage. If there is excessive force at this relatively weak point damage occurs. This excess force can be caused by a number of factors. During the adolescent growth spurt the bones grow very quickly. The muscles do not grow out at the same rate as the bone grows and so can become very tight. The calf muscles generate huge forces when they are used to run, jump and land. This force is transmitted to the calcaneal apophysis (growth area). The gastrocnemius muscle spans both the ankle and knee joint. Tightness of this or any other muscles of the lower limb (hamstring or quadriceps) cause extra force at the growing (weak) area. In active children, who undertake a lot of exercise, the repetitive high force causes damage. If your child has poor biomechanics due to poor lower limb alignment (often caused by flat feet), the muscles of the lower limb have to work excessively hard and this can cause increased force at the tibial tubercle.
The typical patient is a child between 10 and 13 years of age, complaining of pain in one or both heels with running and walking. The pain is localized to the point of the heel where the tendo-Achilles inserts into the calcaneus, and is tender to deep pressure at that site. Walking on his toes relieves the pain.
A physical exam of the heel will show tenderness over the back of the heel but not in the Achilles tendon or plantar fascia. There may be tightness in the calf muscle, which contributes to tension on the heel. The tendons in the heel get stretched more in patients with flat feet. There is greater impact force on the heels of athletes with a high-arched, rigid foot. The doctor may order an x-ray because x-rays can confirm how mature the growth center is and if there are other sources of heel pain, such as a stress fracture or bone cyst. However, x-rays are not necessary to diagnose Sever?s disease, and it is not possible to make the diagnosis based on the x-ray alone.
Non Surgical Treatment
The aim of treatment is to reduce the pain and inflammation when gently stretch the muscles. There is likely to be no magic instant cure and the young athlete may have to be patient while they grow. Rest and apply ice or cold therapy to the heel. Do not apply ice directly to the skin but wrap in a wet tea towel to avoid ice burns. Rest from activities which cause pain. If running and playing football makes it worse then reduce or stop this activity and try cycling or swimming to maintain fitness. A temporary measure is to insert a heel pad or heel raise into the shoes. This has the effect of raising the heel and shortening the calf muscles and so taking the strain off the back of the heel. However long term use of a heal raise may shorten the calf muscles when they need stretching. Stretch the calf muscles regularly. Stretching should be done pain free and very gently with this injury. See a sports injury professional who can advise on treatment and rehabilitation.
Sever?s disease is self-recovering, meaning that it will go away on its own when the foot is used less or when the bone is through growing. The condition is not expected to create any long-term disability, and expected to subside in 2-8 weeks. Some orthopedic surgeons will put the affected foot in a cast to immobilize it. While symptoms can resolve quickly, they can recur. Sever's disease is more common in boys than girls the average age of symptom onset is nine to eleven years.