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.
At birth, most of our foot bones are still made of cartilage, which ossifies (becomes bony) over the first few years of life. At the back of the heel, there is a growth plate that is attached to the main body of the heel bone by a cartilaginous join. At about the age of 14-15 years, this area of cartilage between the growth plate and the heel bone ossifies, fusing the area to the heel. Sever?s disease occurs when there is too much motion or strain across the growth plate, resulting in this area becoming inflamed and painful.
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 localized 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) is 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.
A doctor or other health professional such as a physiotherapist can diagnose Sever?s disease by asking the young person to describe their symptoms and by conducting a physical examination. In some instances, an x-ray may be necessary to rule out other causes of heel pain, such as heel fractures. Sever?s disease does not show on an x-ray because the damage is in the cartilage.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment is primarily supportive, with rest, pain management, and activity modification. Activity modifications include the addition of low-impact activities. Gel heel cups are sold over the counter and can be used intermittently to help reduce shock in the heel, as well as take tension off of the tight Achilles?s tendon complex. Proper stretching and strengthening activities should be preformed routinely even during periods of no pain. A large study showed that approximately 85% of children affected by Sever?s disease return to full activity within a two-month time period after starting treatment.
Exercises that help to stretch the calf muscles and hamstrings are effective at treating Sever's disease. An exercise known as foot curling, in which the foot is pointed away from the body, then curled toward the body in order to help stretch the muscles, has also proven to be very effective at treating Sever's disease. The curling exercise should be done in sets of 10 or 20 repetitions, and repeated several times throughout the day.