Although the name might sound pretty frightening, Sever's disease is really a common heel injury that occurs in kids. It can be painful, but is only temporary and has no long-term effects. Sever's disease, also called calcaneal apophysitis, is a painful bone disorder that results from inflammation (swelling) of the growth plate in the heel. A growth plate, also called an epiphyseal plate, is an area at the end of a developing bone where cartilage cells change over time into bone cells. As this occurs, the growth plates expand and unite, which is how bones grow. Sever's disease is a common cause of heel pain in growing kids, especially those who are physically active. It usually occurs during the growth spurt of adolescence, the approximately 2-year period in early puberty when kids grow most rapidly. This growth spurt can begin any time between the ages of 8 and 13 for girls and 10 and 15 for boys. Sever's disease rarely occurs in older teens because the back of the heel usually finishes growing by the age of 15, when the growth plate hardens and the growing bones fuse together into mature bone. Sever's disease is similar to Osgood-Schlatter disease, a condition that affects the bones in the knees.
When a baby is born, most of the bones are still cartilage with only some starting to develop into bone. When the heel (calcaneus) starts to develop bone, there is generally one large area of development that starts in the center of the cartilage heel. This area of bone spreads to 'fill up' the cartilage. Another area of bone development (ossification) occurs at the back of the heel bone. These two areas of developing bone will have an area of cartilage between them, this is how the bone grows in size. At around age 16, when growth is nearly complete, these two bony areas fuse together. Sever's disease or calcaneal apophysitis is usually considered to be due to damage or a disturbance in this area of growth.
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.
Sever disease is most often diagnosed clinically, and radiographic evaluation is believed to be unnecessary by many physicians, but if a diagnosis of calcaneal apophysitis is made without obtaining radiographs, a lesion requiring more aggressive treatment could be missed. Foot radiographs are usually normal and the radiologic identification of calcaneal apophysitis without the absence of clinical information was not reliable.
Non Surgical Treatment
Fortunately Severs? disease can be treated and prevented through a number of different techniques that have all proven highly effective. The heel will repair itself even without active treatment provided that the suffering foot is given a chance to heal. Typically Severs? disease will take 2-8 weeks, although in many cases it can take longer as the continuous growing of the bone can exacerbate the condition. Podiatrists have an important role in preventing Severs? disease in young athletes, and in treating the condition when it develops so children can get back on their feet as quickly as possible. Generally treatment involves stretching muscles running down to the heel to relieve tension and pain, these include the hamstrings and calf muscles, and these stretching exercises will need to be performed at least 2 or 3 times a day. RICE is a classic method of speeding up the recovery of self-healing injuries like Severs? disease. This involves Rest, the application of Ice to the injury, Compression, and finally Elevation to encourage repaid. These measures can be advised by a trained podiatrist, but it is then up to a child to carry on with regular RICE.
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.