Sever’s disease, or calcaneal apophysitis, is a common cause of heel pain among active children between 10 to 13 years old. This spontaneous heel pain results from injury to the heel bone?s growth plate which is caused by overuse rather than specific injury or trauma. The condition is common among athletic children, particularly those active in soccer, football, and baseball. Treatment is available to reduce pain and discomfort associated with Sever’s disease, but the condition usually resolves on its own once feet stop growing.
With early puberty, the growth plate at the end of the heel develops, transforming cartilage cells into bone cells. This painful heel condition occurs during these growth spurts, when the heel bone grows more rapidly than the muscles and tendons of the leg. The discrepancy between rates of development causes excess pressure and tension to be placed upon the heel and it becomes less flexible. This condition affects active children the most. Due to the amount of exercise, more stress is placed upon the tendons which in turn causes more damage to the growth plate. The bone plates fully mature and harden by the time a child reaches the age of 15.
Sever?s disease is more common in boys. They tend to have later growth spurts and typically get the condition between the ages of 10 and 15. In girls, it usually happens between 8 and 13. Symptoms can include pain, swelling, or redness in one or both heels, tenderness and tightness in the back of the heel that feels worse when the area is squeezed. Heel pain that gets worse after running or jumping, and feels better after rest. The pain may be especially bad at the beginning of a sports season or when wearing hard, stiff shoes like soccer cleats. Trouble walking. Walking or running with a limp or on tip toes.
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 primary method of treating Sever?s disease is taking time off from sports and other physical activities to alleviate the pressure on the heel bone. During the healing period, your child?s doctor may also recommend physical therapy or any type of exercise that involves stretching and strengthen leg muscles and tendons. Wrapping ice in a towel and placing it under the child?s heel will also help to alleviate and reduce pain and swelling.
The following exercises are commonly prescribed to patients with Severs disease. You should discuss the suitability of these exercises with your physiotherapist prior to beginning them. Generally, they should be performed 1 – 3 times daily and only provided they do not cause or increase symptoms. Your physiotherapist can advise when it is appropriate to begin the initial exercises and eventually progress to the intermediate, advanced and other exercises. As a general rule, addition of exercises or progression to more advanced exercises should take place provided there is no increase in symptoms. Calf Stretch with Towel. Begin this stretch in long sitting with your leg to be stretched in front of you. Your knee and back should be straight and a towel or rigid band placed around your foot as demonstrated. Using your foot, ankle and the towel, bring your toes towards your head as far as you can go without pain and provided you feel no more than a mild to moderate stretch in the back of your calf, Achilles tendon or leg. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 10 times at a mild to moderate stretch provided the exercise is pain free. Calf Stretch with Towel. Begin this exercise with a resistance band around your foot and your foot and ankle held up towards your head. Slowly move your foot and ankle down against the resistance band as far as possible and comfortable without pain, tightening your calf muscle. Very slowly return back to the starting position. Repeat 10 – 20 times provided the exercise is pain free. Once you can perform 20 repetitions consistently without pain, the exercise can be progressed by gradually increasing the resistance of the band provided there is no increase in symptoms. Bridging. Begin this exercise lying on your back in the position demonstrated. Slowly lift your bottom pushing through your feet, until your knees, hips and shoulders are in a straight line. Tighten your bottom muscles (gluteals) as you do this. Hold for 2 seconds then slowly lower your bottom back down. Repeat 10 times provided the exercise is pain free.