Sever?s disease is a condition occurring in pre-adolescents that causes pain, swelling and soreness in the heel bone, also known as the calcaneus. Sever?s disease causes pain on either side of and/or on the bottom of the heel. During a period of pre-adolescent development, the growing heel bone can be overused when the child is involved in a lot of running and jumping activities. Impact on the heel bone and repeated traction on the growing bone from the Achilles tendon can lead to swelling in the area.
There are several theories surrounding the cause of Sever?s disease. These range from a tight Achilles tendon, to micro stress fractures of the heel, to biomechanical mal-alignment, to trauma, to flat feet, and even to obesity. But the prevailing theory suggests the onset of Sever?s disease occurs when the child’s growth plate is at its weakest, while a tightened Achilles tendon pulls repeatedly on the growth plate, such as during AGS.
Often the condition is self limiting; meaning as the growth plate fuses to the rest of the heel bone, the pain will subside. However in some cases the child will have so much discomfort that they will be unable to walk comfortably if left untreated. Therefore, heel pain in children should always by evaluated by a physician.
Low-grade inflammation of the calcaneal apophysis cannot be seen on x-ray. Therefore, although x-rays are often done to rule out bony injuries in children with Sever’s disease these x-rays are usually normal. Advanced Sever’s disease can be seen on x-ray but usually the problem is treated before it reaches this point. Other diagnostic tests, such as bone scans or MRI’s, are not usually required in typical cases of Sever’s disease. These, or other tests, may be required to rule out other conditions, such as stress fractures of the calcaneus or other bony abnormalities that can mimic Severs disease.
Non Surgical Treatment
Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and examine your child’s feet and heels. Any of the following may be done to treat your child’s pain. NSAIDs help decrease swelling and pain or fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor’s order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If your child takes blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for him. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children under 6 months of age without direction from your child’s doctor. Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor’s order. Ask how much your child should take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly. Rest will decrease swelling, and keep the heel pain from getting worse. Your child may need to decrease his regular training or exercise. He may need to completely stop running and doing other activities that put pressure on his heel until his heel pain is gone. Ask your child’s healthcare provider about activities that do not put pressure on the heel. Ice should be applied on your child’s heel for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain. Stretching and strengthening exercises may be recommended. A healthcare provider may teach your child exercises to stretch the hamstring and calf muscles and the tendons on the back of the leg. Other exercises will help strengthen the muscles on the front of the lower leg. Your child may be told to stop exercising if he feels any pain. Shoe inserts may be needed. Your child’s healthcare provider may give you heel pads or cups for your child’s shoes to decrease pressure on the heel bone. You may also be given shoe inserts with firm arch support and a heel lift. Make sure your child wears good quality shoes with padded soles. Your child should not walk barefoot. An elastic wrap or compression stocking may be needed. Your child’s healthcare provider may want your child to use a wrap or stocking to help decrease swelling and pain. Ask how to apply the wrap or stocking.
Although Sever’s disease generally heals quickly, it can recur if long-term measures are not taken to protect the heel during a child’s growing years. One of the most important is to make sure that kids wear proper shoes. Good quality, well-fitting shoes with shock-absorbent (padded) soles help to reduce pressure on the heel. The doctor may also recommend shoes with open backs, such as sandals or clogs, that do not rub on the back of the heel. Shoes that are heavy or have high heels should be avoided. Other preventive measures include continued stretching exercises and icing of the affected heel after activity.