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 pain of Severs usually occurs because of inflammation and micro-trauma to the growth plate of the heel bone. This can be caused by a sudden increase in activity, running on very hard surfaces, a growth spurt, tight muscles or feet that roll in.
Athletes with Sever?s disease are typically aged 9 to 13 years and participate in running or jumping sports such as soccer, football, basketball, baseball, and gymnastics. The typical complaint is heel pain that develops slowly and occurs with activity. The pain is usually described like a bruise. There is rarely swelling or visible bruising. The pain is usually worse with running in cleats or shoes that have limited heel lift, cushion, and arch support. The pain usually goes away with rest and rarely occurs with low-impact sports such as bicycling, skating, or swimming.
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
Treatment is primarily directed towards reducing the amount of stress to the heel. Often a heel lift, is placed in the shoe to reduce the pull of the Achilles tendon on the apophysis. Gel or cushioned heel cups may also be helpful in reducing micro trauma to the heel. Orthotic control may also be indicated when a pathologic condition exists in the foot that may be contributing to the increased heel stress. Occasionally, it becomes necessary for adequate healing, to rest the area completely. This can be accomplished either by complete elimination of all strenuous activities, or by using a walking cast or crutches. Often simply reducing activity levels is adequate. Your physician will discuss the best treatment plan with you and your child.
As with all overuse injuries, it is important to warm up sufficiently before you exercise and warm down afterwards. You should build up any alterations in the intensity of your training gradually, and never continue exercising with weakened or fatigued muscles. Replace any worn or tattered shoes, as in this condition they become useless for absorbing shock and protecting the feet.