Sever’s disease is an overuse syndrome involving an immature part of the skeleton. Pain goes away when the overuse is over, or when the growing is done. Hence, the disease is self-limited, in that the pain goes away eventually when growth in the heel bone is complete at about age 13. Even if the child is hurting, as long as he can tolerate it, he may continue to take part in sports. No long term disability is expected from this problem.
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 common symptom of Sever’s disease is acute pain felt in the heel when a child engages in physical activity such as walking, jumping or running. Children who are very active athletes are among the group most susceptible to experiencing Sever’s disease because of the extreme stress and tension they place on their growing feet. Improper pronation, the rolling movement of the foot during walking or running, and obesity are all additional conditions linked to causing Sever’s disease.
X-rays are normal in Sever’s disease, but your doctor will probably get X-rays to rule out other problems. Treatment consists of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and use of a heel lift to relieve tension on the calcaneal apophysis. In more severe cases, phycical therapy consisting of modalities to relieve the pain, and stretching exercises may be helpful. In extreme cases, castings have been used.
Non Surgical Treatment
If your child is diagnosed with Sever’s disease, treatment is fairly straightforward. He or she should avoid any activities that cause a flare-up of heel pain. Treat the pain with ice for 20 minutes, three times a day. If the pain is severe, over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used for a short period of time. (Don’t use aspirin in a child or teen because it can result in a rare but life-threatening condition called Reye’s syndrome.) In some instances, a child might have other foot problems, as well, such as high arches, flat feet, or bowed legs. In these instances, your doctor can recommend an orthotic device to help further prevent the pain related to Sever’s disease. One other simple tip that can prevent Sever’s disease or speed along recovery is for your child to wear supportive shoes and avoid going barefoot as much as possible.
Receiving the initial diagnosis of Sever?s disease can be scary, and while the situation is painful, there is good news. If treated properly and quickly, Sever?s disease is temporary and will have no long-term effects on the athlete.