Severs Disease The Facts

Overview

Sever?s disease, also known as calcaneal apophysitis, is a common heel problem affecting children. This heel bone disorder is often painful, though it?s usually temporary and causes no long-term health effects. With Sever?s disease, the Achilles tendon repeatedly pulls on the heel?s growth plate, causing microtrauma (i.e. microfractures), inflammation, and swelling in the affected area. Sever?s disease is similar to Osgood-Schlatter disease, which affects the knee. Inappropriate footwear may be a contributing factor in the onset of this condition.

Causes

The most common of the Sever?s disease causes is when the heel bone grows more rapidly than the muscles and tendons in the leg. The muscles and tendons become tight and put additional stress on the growth plate in the heel. When this happens, the growth plate begins to swell, becomes tender, and the child will essentially begin to feel one or more Sever?s disease symptoms. It can occur in any child as they grow, but there are some common Sever?s disease causes and risk factors that make a child more prone to the condition. They include participation in sports and other activities that put pressure on the heel, such as basketball, track, and gymnastics. A pronated foot, which makes the Achilles tendon tight, increasing the strain on the growth plate of the heel. An arch that is flat or high, affecting the angle of the heel. Short leg syndrome, when one leg is shorter than the other, causing the shorter leg to pull more on the Achilles tendon in order to reach the ground. Obesity puts extra weight on the growth plate, which can cause it to swell.

Symptoms

The pain associated with Sever’s disease is usually felt along the back of the heel and becomes worse when running or walking. In some children, the pain is so severe they may limp when walking. One of the diagnostic tests for Sever’s disease is the “squeeze test”. Squeezing both sides of the heel together will produce immediate discomfort. Many children feel pain immediately upon waking and may have calf muscle stiffness in the morning.

Diagnosis

A physical exam of the heel will show tenderness over the back of the heel but not in the Achilles tendon or plantar fascia. There may be tightness in the calf muscle, which contributes to tension on the heel. The tendons in the heel get stretched more in patients with flat feet. There is greater impact force on the heels of athletes with a high-arched, rigid foot. The doctor may order an x-ray because x-rays can confirm how mature the growth center is and if there are other sources of heel pain, such as a stress fracture or bone cyst. However, x-rays are not necessary to diagnose Sever?s disease, and it is not possible to make the diagnosis based on the x-ray alone.

Non Surgical Treatment

First, your child should cut down or stop any activity that causes heel pain. Apply ice to the injured heel for 20 minutes 3 times a day. If your child has a high arch, flat feet or bowed legs, your doctor may recommend orthotics, arch supports or heel cups. Your child should never go barefoot. If your child has severe heel pain, medicines such as acetaminophen (one brand name: Tylenol) or ibuprofen (some brand names: Advil, Motrin, Nuprin) may help.

Prevention

Prevention consists of maintaining good flexibility through stretching exercises, avoid excessive running on hard surfaces, and use quality, well-fitting shoes with firm support and a shock-absorbent sole.

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