Sever’s disease is a condition characterized by pain in one or both heels with walking. The pain is caused by shortening of the heel-cord. It usually affects children between the ages of 10 and 13 years old. During this phase of life, growth of the bone is taking place at a faster rate than the tendons. Sever’s disease is also called calcaneal apophysitis.
Sever?s disease is often associated with a growth spurt, when the bones grow but the muscles do not. Therefore the muscles effectively become tighter which results in increased stress at the heel. It may also be related to unusual biomechanics, for instance poor foot posture, muscle tightness or muscle weakness. Overtraining or incorrect training can also play a part. Usually, the cause is a combination of factors.
The most prominent symptom of Sever?s disease is heel pain which is usually aggravated by physical activity such as walking, running or jumping. The pain is localised to the posterior and plantar side of the heel over the calcaneal apophysis. Sometimes, the pain may be so severe that it may cause limping and interfere with physical performance in sports. External appearance of the heel is almost always normal, and signs of local disease such as edema, erythema (redness) are absent. The main diagnostic tool is pain on medial- lateral compression of the calcaneus in the area of growth plate, so called squeeze test. Foot radiographs are usually normal. Therefore the diagnosis of Sever?s disease is primarily clinical.
This can include physical examination and x-ray evaluation. X-rays may show some increased density or sclerosis of the apophysis (island of bone on the back of the heel). This problem may be on one side or bilateral.
Non Surgical Treatment
The aims are to reduce trauma to the heel, allow rest/recovery and prevent recurrence. Most cases are successfully treated using physiotherapy and exercises, eg to stretch the gastrocnemius-soleus complex, to mobilise the ankle mortise, subtalar joint and medial forefoot. Soft orthotics or heel cups. Advice on suitable athletic footwear. Other modes of treatment are in severe cases, temporarily limiting activity such as running and jumping. Ice and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which can reduce pain. In very severe cases, a short period of immobilisation (eg 2-3 weeks in a case in mild equinus position) has been suggested.
For children with Sever’s disease, it is important to habitually perform exercises to stretch the hamstrings, calf muscles, and the tendons on the back of the leg. Stretching should be performed 2-3 times a day. Each stretch should be performed for 20 seconds, and both legs should be stretched, even if the pain is only in one heel. Heel cups or an inner shoe heel lifts are often recommended for patient suffering from Sever’s disease. Wearing running shoes with built in heel cups can also decrease the symptoms because they can help soften the impact on the heel when walking, running, or standing.