Dealing With Severs Disease

Overview

Sever?s is described as a traction apophysitis. In childhood our bones are made of a cartilage mould of the bone, which over time as we grow slowly turns into a full bone. The reason for this is that it is easier to grow cartilage to the length required, and then back fill with bone later than it is to actually grow new bone. Most bones have a least two growth of bone centres, one by the joint and one making the main body of the bone. In the growing heel bone (calcaneus) the posterior part has a separate growth area where the Achilles tendon attaches. When playing lots of sport, especially football, rugby and hockey, the two areas of bone can be pulled apart, producing pain. Recent evidence has also suggested that the appearance of this condition on MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), appears to indicate that Sever?s is a type of stress fracture. Whether that fatigue stress is from compression or tension remains in debate, and is probably a combination of both.

Causes

Predisposing Hereditary Factors: These are a biomechanical defect that one may be born with, which increases the chances of developing Sever’s Disease. Short Achilles Tendon, When the Achilles Tendon is short from birth, it will exaggerate the tightness of this tendon that occurs during a child’s growing years. This makes the pull of the Achilles Tendon on the heel’s growth plate more forceful than normal, causing inflammation and pain, and eventually Sever’s Disease. Short Leg Syndrome, When one leg is shorter than the other, the foot on the short leg must plantar flex (the foot and toes bend down) in order to reach the ground. In this way, the body tries to equalize the length of the legs. In order for the foot to plantar flex, the Achilles Tendon must pull on the heel with greater force than if the leg was a normal length. Thus the heel on the short leg will be more susceptible to Sever’s Disease during the foot’s growing years. Pronation. Is a biomechanical defect of the foot that involves a rolling outward of the foot at the ankle, so that when walking, the inner side of the heel and foot bears more of the body’s weight than is normal (click here for more information about pronation). Pronation thus causes the heel to be tilted or twisted. In order for the Achilles Tendon to attach to the heel, it must twist to reach its normal attachment site. This will shorten or tighten the Achilles Tendon and increase the force of its pull on the heel’s growth plate. This will increase the tightness of the Achilles Tendon during the foot’s growing years, and may help to initiate bouts of Sever’s Disease. Flat Arches and High Arches. Both of these biomechanical foot defects effect the pitch, or angle of the heel within the foot. When the heel is not positioned normally within the foot due to the height of the arch, the Achilles Tendon’s attachment to the heel is affected. This may produce a shortening or tightening of the Achilles Tendon, which increases the force of its pull on the heel’s growth plate. During the foot’s growing years, abnormal arch height may contribute to the onset of Sever’s Disease.

Symptoms

Sever’s disease usually develops gradually. The pain from Sever’s disease is often intermittent and localized to the area where the Achilles tendon attaches to the calcaneus. Swelling may be noted in this area. There can be tenderness on squeezing the calcaneus or pain when trying to stretch the calf muscles. Occasionally there is night pain. As Sever’s disease progresses there can be continuous pain.

Diagnosis

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

The immediate goal of treatment is pain relief. Because symptoms generally worsen with activity, the main treatment for Sever’s disease is rest, which helps to relieve pressure on the heel bone, decreasing swelling and reducing pain. As directed by the doctor, a child should cut down on or avoid all activities that cause pain until all symptoms are gone, especially running barefoot or on hard surfaces because hard impact on the feet can worsen pain and inflammation. The child might be able to do things that do not put pressure on the heel, such as swimming and biking, but check with a doctor first.

Surgical Treatment

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.