Sever’s disease, or calcaneal apophysitis, is a common cause of heel pain in patients whose bones are still growing; however, it is not really a disease. The pain is caused by stress at the point where the Achilles tendon meets tissue called the plantar fascia on the growth plate (apophysis) of the heel bone (calcaneus). Sever’s affects boys more often than girls. Boys are most often affected at age 12, and girls at age 9, though Sever’s is typically seen in children and adolescents between the ages of 7 and 15.
The exact cause of Severs disease is not completely understood. It is thought to be associated with an overuse type injury, in which repetitive stress from the Achilles tendon causes a portion of the growth plate to pull away from the heel. In medical terms, this is described as cyclic, micro-avulsion type fractures to the calcaneal apophyses.
The pain is at the heel or around the Achilles tendon. This is felt commonly during exercise, particularly activities involving running or jumping. The back of the heel may also be tender to touch and there may be localised swelling. There may be stiffness in the calf muscles first thing in the morning and you may notice limping or a tendency to tiptoe.
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
Orthotic insoles are a common form of treatment for Sever?s disease as they provide support and cushioning to the area which reduces the pressure and stress to the area. Our podiatrist can also show your child stretches and exercises to help them manage their pain as well offering them advice on their exercise and activity.
Stretching exercises can help. It is important that your child performs exercises to stretch the hamstring and calf muscles, and the tendons on the back of the leg. The child should do these stretches 2 or 3 times a day. Each stretch should be held for about 20 seconds. Both legs should be stretched, even if the pain is only in 1 heel. Your child also needs to do exercises to strengthen the muscles on the front of the shin. To do this, your child should sit on the floor, keeping his or her hurt leg straight. One end of a bungee cord or piece of rubber tubing is hooked around a table leg. The other end is hitched around the child’s toes. The child then scoots back just far enough to stretch the cord. Next, the child slowly bends the foot toward his or her body. When the child cannot bend the foot any closer, he or she slowly points the foot in the opposite direction (toward the table). This exercise (15 repetitions of “foot curling”) should be done about 3 times. The child should do this exercise routine a few times daily.