n the growing child there are a number of different ways that bones grow. In the calcaneus (heel bone), growth comes from two separate growth plates. The lesser of the two growth plates is called the apophysis. The apophysis of the calcaneus is located between the back and the bottom of the heel at that spot that hits the ground each time we take a step. The Achilles tendon, which is the most powerful tendons in our body, attaches to the proximal aspect of the apophysis. The plantar fascia attaches to the distal aspect of the apophysis. Both the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia place traction, or pulling on the growth plate and contribute to inflammation of the secondary growth plate called apophysitis. The calcaneal apophysis is very apparent on x-ray and continues to grow until approximately age 12 in girls and age 15 in boys.
A big tendon called the Achilles tendon joins the calf muscle at the back of the leg to the heel. Sever?s disease is thought to occur because of a mismatch in growth of the calf bones to the calf muscle and Achilles tendon. If the bones grow faster than the muscles, the Achilles tendon that attaches the muscle to the heel gets tight. At the same time, until the cartilage of the calcaneum is ossified (turned into bone), it is a potential weak spot. The tight calf muscle and Achilles tendon cause a traction injury on this weak spot, resulting in inflammation and pain. Sever?s disease most commonly affects boys aged ten to 12 years and girls aged nine to 11 years, when growth spurts are beginning. Sever?s disease heals itself with time, so it is known as ?self-limiting?. There is no evidence to suggest that Sever?s disease causes any long-term problems or complications.
The most common symptom of Sever’s disease is acute pain felt in the heel when a child engages in physical activity such as walking, jumping or running. Children who are very active athletes are among the group most susceptible to experiencing Sever’s disease because of the extreme stress and tension they place on their growing feet. Improper pronation, the rolling movement of the foot during walking or running, and obesity are all additional conditions linked to causing Sever’s disease.
Sever’s disease is diagnosed based on a doctor?s physical examination of the lower leg, ankle, and foot. If the diagnosis is in question, the doctor may order X-rays or an MRI to determine if there are other injuries that may be causing the heel pain.
Non Surgical Treatment
Please realize that the disorder may last only a couple of weeks to as long as 1-2 years. The treatment plan as prescribed by your doctor MUST be adhered to closely, and the activity level of the child must be controlled during the early stages of treatment. All jumping and running sports, such as basketball, trampoline, volleyball, tennis, soccer, etc., must be eliminated as part of the initial treatment. Once the child has improved and the pain has subsided, a rigid stretching program must then be implemented.
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.