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.
Severs causes swelling, pain and tenderness over the back of the heel. Your child may walk with a limp. Initially the pain may be intermittent occurring only during or after exercise. As the problem gets worse, pain may be present most of the time. The swelling increases and is painful when touched or knocked. It commonly affects boys who are having a growth spurt during their pre-teen or teenage years. One or both knees may be affected.
Most often, a healthcare professional can diagnose Sever?s disease by taking a careful history and administering a few simple tests during the physical exam. A practitioner may squeeze the heel on either side; when this move produces pain, it may be a sign of Sever?s disease. The practitioner may also ask the child to stand on their tiptoes, because pain that occurs when standing in this position can also be an indication of Sever?s disease.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment of Sever’s disease will depend upon the severity of the condition. Parents can assist with the treatment of Sever’s disease by making sure their children reduce physical activity until some of the pain subsides. Losing weight can also help reduce pressure on the heel. It is important to consult a doctor if the pain persists. A physician may recommend flexibility exercises, custom shoe inserts, or anti-inflammatory medication. In some cases, a splint or cast may be necessary to immobilize the foot and give it a chance to heal. Most cases of Sever’s disease will resolve by the age of 16, when growing subsides. Fortunately, there are no known long-term complications associated with the disease.
Recovery time will vary from patient to patient. Age, health, previous injuries, and severity of symptoms will affect recovery time. Your compliance with the stretching program and the other recommendations made by your doctor will also determine your healing time. Heel pain often completely resolves after a child?s heel bone has stopped its period of growth.