Sever's disease or calcaneal apophysitis, is the most common cause of heel pain in the growing athlete and is due to overuse and repetitive microtrauma of growth plates of the calcaneus in the heel. It occurs in children ages 7 to 15, with the majority of patients presenting between 10 and 12 years of age.
Growth plates, also called epiphyseal plates, occur at the end of long bones in children who are still growing. These plates are at either end of growing bones, and are the place where cartilage turns into bone. As children grow, these plates eventually become bone (a process called ossification). During a growth spurt, the bone in the heel may outpace the growth of the muscles and tendons that are attached to the heel, such as the Achilles tendon. During weight bearing, the muscles and tendons begin to tighten, which in turn puts stress on the growth plate in the heel. The heel is not very flexible, and the constant pressure on it begins to cause the symptoms of Sever?s disease. Sever?s disease is common, and it does not predispose a child to develop any other diseases or conditions in the leg, foot, or heel. It typically resolves on its own.
A few signs and symptoms point to Sever?s disease, which may affect one or both heels. These include pain at the heel or around the Achilles tendon, Heel pain during physical exercise, especially activities that require running or jumping, worsening of pain after exercise, a tender swelling or bulge on the heel that is sore to touch, calf muscle stiffness first thing in the morning, limping, a tendency to tiptoe.
All medical diagnosis should be made by taking a full history, examining the patient then performing investigations. The problem usually occurs in boys who are going through or have just gone through a growth spurt; one or both heels may be affected. 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. There may be swelling over the back of the heel and this area is painful if touched or knocked. On examination the patient often has flat feet, very tight legs muscles especially the gastrocnemius.
Non Surgical Treatment
The aims are to reduce trauma to the heel, allow rest/recovery and prevent recurrence. Most cases are successfully treated using physiotherapy and exercises, eg to stretch the gastrocnemius-soleus complex, to mobilise the ankle mortise, subtalar joint and medial forefoot. Soft orthotics or heel cups. Advice on suitable athletic footwear. Other modes of treatment are in severe cases, temporarily limiting activity such as running and jumping. Ice and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which can reduce pain. In very severe cases, a short period of immobilisation (eg 2-3 weeks in a case in mild equinus position) has been suggested.
Exercises that help to stretch the calf muscles and hamstrings are effective at treating Sever's disease. An exercise known as foot curling, in which the foot is pointed away from the body, then curled toward the body in order to help stretch the muscles, has also proven to be very effective at treating Sever's disease. The curling exercise should be done in sets of 10 or 20 repetitions, and repeated several times throughout the day.