One of the more common limitations to children enjoying their youthful energy is Sever?s Disease. Sever?s Disease is a pathology that affects the heels of children in their high growth years (usually around 9-15), and it can be quite painful. It usually occurs due to repetitive trauma or impact at the heel. This means that if your child spends a lot of time running around (in sports, or just with friends) the continuous impact of his or her heel to the ground can cause this! Usually, most children will complain of heel pain specifically when they are active; these are considered milder cases. In more severe cases the pain may never cease, whether the child is active or not.
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 prominent symptom of Sever's disease is heel pain which is usually aggravated by physical activity such as walking, running or jumping. The pain is localised to the posterior and plantar side of the heel over the calcaneal apophysis. Sometimes, the pain may be so severe that it may cause limping and interfere with physical performance in sports. External appearance of the heel is almost always normal, and signs of local disease such as edema, erythema (redness) are absent. The main diagnostic tool is pain on medial- lateral compression of the calcaneus in the area of growth plate, so called squeeze test. Foot radiographs are usually normal. Therefore the diagnosis of Sever's disease is primarily clinical.
A doctor can usually tell that a child has Sever's disease based on the symptoms reported. To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor will probably examine the heels and ask about the child's activity level and participation in sports. The doctor might also use the squeeze test, squeezing the back part of the heel from both sides at the same time to see if doing so causes pain. The doctor might also ask the child to stand on tiptoes to see if that position causes pain. Although imaging tests such as X-rays generally are not that helpful in diagnosing Sever's disease, some doctors order them to rule out other problems, such as fractures. Sever's disease cannot be seen on an X-ray.
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.
If the child has a pronated foot, a flat or high arch, or another condition that increases the risk of Sever's disease, the doctor might recommend special shoe inserts, called orthotic devices, such as heel pads that cushion the heel as it strikes the ground, heel lifts that reduce strain on the Achilles tendon by raising the heel, arch supports that hold the heel in an ideal position. If a child is overweight or obese, the doctor will probably also recommend weight loss to decrease pressure on the heel. The risk of recurrence goes away on its own when foot growth is complete and the growth plate has fused to the rest of the heel bone, usually around age 15.