Sever disease, first described in 1912, is a painful inflammation of the calcaneal apophysis. It is classified with the child and adolescent nonarticular osteochondroses. (The other disease in this group is Iselin disease, which is inflammation of the base of the fifth metatarsal.) The etiology of pain in Sever disease is believed to be repetitive trauma to the weaker structure of the apophysis, induced by the pull of the tendo calcaneus (Achilles tendon) on its insertion. This results in a clinical picture of heel pain in a growing active child, which worsens with activity. Sever disease is a self-limited condition; accordingly, no known complication exists from failure to make the correct diagnosis.
This condition is more common in boys than girls. It generally presents between the ages of 9-14 and peaks between ages 10-12 years. This injury can reoccur up until the age of 17, when the growth plate of the calcaneous generally closes. These types of injuries will commonly occur during periods of rapid growth. Sever?s Disease occurs more frequently in child with flat feet, but all children with flat feet will not get Sever?s.
Pain symptoms usually begin after a child begins a new sport or sporting season, and can worsen with athletic activities that involve running and jumping. It is common for a child with Sever?s disease to walk with a limp. Increased activity can lead to heel cord tightness (Achilles Tendon), resulting in pressure on the apophysis of the calcaneus. This will cause irritation of the growth plate and sometimes swelling in the heel area thus producing pain. This usually occurs in the early stages of puberty.
A physical exam of the heel will show tenderness over the back of the heel but not in the Achilles tendon or plantar fascia. There may be tightness in the calf muscle, which contributes to tension on the heel. The tendons in the heel get stretched more in patients with flat feet. There is greater impact force on the heels of athletes with a high-arched, rigid foot. 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
The aim of treatment is to reduce the pain and inflammation when gently stretch the muscles. There is likely to be no magic instant cure and the young athlete may have to be patient while they grow. Rest and apply ice or cold therapy to the heel. Do not apply ice directly to the skin but wrap in a wet tea towel to avoid ice burns. Rest from activities which cause pain. If running and playing football makes it worse then reduce or stop this activity and try cycling or swimming to maintain fitness. A temporary measure is to insert a heel pad or heel raise into the shoes. This has the effect of raising the heel and shortening the calf muscles and so taking the strain off the back of the heel. However long term use of a heal raise may shorten the calf muscles when they need stretching. Stretch the calf muscles regularly. Stretching should be done pain free and very gently with this injury. See a sports injury professional who can advise on treatment and rehabilitation.
If the child has a pronated foot, a flat or high arch, or another condition that increases the risk of Sever's disease, the doctor might recommend special shoe inserts, called orthotic devices, such as heel pads that cushion the heel as it strikes the ground, heel lifts that reduce strain on the Achilles tendon by raising the heel, arch supports that hold the heel in an ideal position. If a child is overweight or obese, the doctor will probably also recommend weight loss to decrease pressure on the heel. The risk of recurrence goes away on its own when foot growth is complete and the growth plate has fused to the rest of the heel bone, usually around age 15.