As children reach their growth spurt in early puberty, the heel is one of the first body parts to grow to full size. Because children's bones are growing so fast, the muscles or tendons can't keep up and often become tight. The tight heel tendons can put a lot of stress on the heel, especially if a child is involved in athletics or other weight-bearing activity. Over time, too much pressure on the heel can injure it and result in Sever's disease, also called calcaneal apophysitis.
Overuse and stress on the heel bone through participation in sports is a major cause of calcaneal apophysitis. The heel?s growth plate is sensitive to repeated running and pounding on hard surfaces, resulting in muscle strain and inflamed tissue. For this reason, children and adolescents involved in soccer, track, or basketball are especially vulnerable. Other potential causes of calcaneal apophysitis include obesity, a tight Achilles tendon, and biomechanical problems such as flatfoot or a high-arched foot.
As a parent, you may notice your child limping while walking or running awkwardly. If you ask them to rise onto their tip toes, their heel pain usually increases. Heel pain can be felt in one or both heels in Sever's disease.
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
The treatment of Sever's disease depends upon the severity of symptoms experienced by the patient. Care is initiated with a simple program of stretching and heel elevation to weaken the force applied to the calcaneus by the Achilles tendon. If stretches and heel elevation are unsuccessful in controlling the symptoms of Sever's disease, children should be removed from sports and placed on restricted activities. Mild Symptoms. Wear a 3/8 heel lift at all times (not just during physical activity). It is important to use a firm lift and not a soft heel pad. Calf stretches 6/day for 60 seconds each. Calf stretches are best accomplished by standing with the toes on the edge of a stretching block. Moderate Symptoms. Follow the directions for minor symptoms and decrease activity including elimination of any athletic activity. In addition to stretching by day, a night stretching splint can be worn while sleeping. Severe Symptoms. Follow the directions for mild and moderate symptoms. Children should be removed from sports activities such as football, basketball, soccer or gym class. A below knee walking cast with a heel lift or in severe cases, non-weight bearing fiberglass cast, may be indicated for 4-6 weeks. The cast should be applied in a mildly plantar flexed position. Cam Walkers should not be used for Sever's Disease unless they have a built in heel lift.
The surgeon may select one or more of the following options to treat calcaneal apophysitis. Reduce activity. The child needs to reduce or stop any activity that causes pain. Support the heel. Temporary shoe inserts or custom orthotic devices may provide support for the heel. Medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, help reduce the pain and inflammation. Physical therapy. Stretching or physical therapy modalities are sometimes used to promote healing of the inflamed issue. Immobilization. In some severe cases of pediatric heel pain, a cast may be used to promote healing while keeping the foot and ankle totally immobile. Often heel pain in children returns after it has been treated because the heel bone is still growing. Recurrence of heel pain may be a sign of calcaneal apophysitis, or it may indicate a different problem. If your child has a repeat bout of heel pain, be sure to make an appointment with your foot and ankle surgeon.