Sever’s disease or Calcaneal apophysitis is a condition that affects children between the ages of 10 and 13 years. It is characterized by pain in one or both heels with walking. During this phase of life, growth of the bone is taking place at a faster rate than the tendons. Hence there is a relative shortening of the heel-cord compared to the leg bones. As a result, the tension the heel-cord applies to the heel bone at its insertion is very great. Moreover, the heel cord is attached to a portion of the calcaneus (heel bone) that is still immature, consisting of a mixture of bone and growing cartilage, called the calcaneal apophysis, which is prone to injury. Compounding to this is the fact that all these changes are happening in a very active child, prone to overuse. The end result is therefore an overuse syndrome of injury and inflammation at the heel where the heel cord (Achilles Tendonitis) inserts into the heel bone (Calcaneal apophysitis).
The large calf muscles attach to the heel via a large tendon called the Achilles tendon (See image below). The function of this tendon is to transmit forces produced by the calf muscles to the heel bone. In children, the portion of the heel bone into which the Achilles tendon inserts is separated from the bulk of the heel bone by a growth plate. This growth plate enables bone growth to occur. However, it also represents a site of weakness in the bone. Forcible and repeated contraction of the calf muscles can injure the growth plate. This commonly occurs during a period of rapid growth where the muscles and tendons become tighter as the bones grow. This leads to increased pulling of the calf muscles and Achilles tendon on the heel bone and growth plate.
The symptoms include pain, tenderness, swelling or redness in the heel, and they might have difficulty walking or putting pressure on the heel. If you notice that your child suddenly starts walking around on their toes because their heels hurt, that?s a dead giveaway. Kids who play sports might also complain of foot pain after a game or practice. As they grow, the muscles and tendons will catch up and eventually the pressure will subside along with the pain. But in the meantime, it can become very uncomfortable.
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.
Stretching exercises can help. It is important that your child performs exercises to stretch the hamstring and calf muscles, and the tendons on the back of the leg. The child should do these stretches 2 or 3 times a day. Each stretch should be held for about 20 seconds. Both legs should be stretched, even if the pain is only in 1 heel. Your child also needs to do exercises to strengthen the muscles on the front of the shin. To do this, your child should sit on the floor, keeping his or her hurt leg straight. One end of a bungee cord or piece of rubber tubing is hooked around a table leg. The other end is hitched around the child’s toes. The child then scoots back just far enough to stretch the cord. Next, the child slowly bends the foot toward his or her body. When the child cannot bend the foot any closer, he or she slowly points the foot in the opposite direction (toward the table). This exercise (15 repetitions of “foot curling”) should be done about 3 times. The child should do this exercise routine a few times daily.