Treating Severs Disease

Overview

Pain in the heel of a child’s foot, typically brought on by some form of injury or trauma, is sometimes Sever’s Disease. The disease often mimics Achilles tendonitis, an inflammation of the tendon attached to the back of the heel. A tight Achilles tendon may contribute to Sever’s Disease by pulling excessively on the growth plate of the heel bone. This condition is most common in younger children and is frequently seen in the active soccer, football or baseball player. Sport shoes with cleats are also known to aggravate the condition. Treatment includes calf muscle stretching exercises, heel cushions in the shoes, and/or anti-inflammatory medications. Consult your physician before taking any medications.

Causes

Sever?s disease is an osteochondrosis caused by overloading the insertion of the Achilles tendon onto the calcaneus and the apophyseal growth plate in this area. This C-shaped growth zone can become inflamed secondary to repetitive traction stress of the Achilles tendon. Calcaneal apophysitis is a common injury in young athletes and is believed to be caused by running and jumping. Active Children and adolescents (usual age of occurrence 7 to 15 years), particularly during the pubertal growth spurt or at the beginning of a sport season (e.g. gymnasts, basketball and football players), often suffer from this condition. This disease occurs most commonly during the early part of the growth spurt. A boy-to-girl ratio is 2-3:1. None of these causative factors has been tested prospectively and, where tested, none of the measurements has been carried out systematically, and reliability or validity of the measurements has not been considered.

Symptoms

Patients with Severs disease typically experience pain that develops gradually in the back of the heel or Achilles region. In less severe cases, patients may only experience an ache or stiffness in the heel that increases with rest (especially at night or first thing in the morning). This typically occurs following activities which require strong or repetitive contraction of the calf muscles, such as running (especially uphill) or during sports involving running, jumping or hopping. The pain associated with this condition may also warm up with activity in the initial stages of the condition. As the condition progresses, patients may experience symptoms that increase during activity and affect performance. Pain may also increase when performing a calf stretch or heel raise (i.e. rising up onto tip toes). In severe cases, patients may walk with a limp, have difficulty putting their heel down, or be unable to weight bear on the affected leg. Pain may also increase on firmly touching the affected region and occasionally a bony lump may be palpable or visible at the back of the heel. This condition typically presents gradually overtime and can affect either one or both lower limbs.

Diagnosis

Sever?s disease is diagnosed based on a doctor?s physical examination of the lower leg, ankle, and foot. If the diagnosis is in question, the doctor may order x-rays or an MRI to determine if there are other injuries that may be causing the heel pain.

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.

Exercise

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.

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