What Is Severs Disease?

Overview

Sever?s disease is a common cause of heel pain, particularly in the young and physically active. Just before puberty the calf bones typically grow faster than the surrounding soft tissue, which means the Achilles tendon is pulled uncomfortably tight. This can lead to an injured heel. Treatment includes relative rest, modifying activities and teaching the young person how to manage the condition when a flare-up happens. Sever?s disease is self-limiting and rarely causes long-term problems.

Causes

When a baby is born, most of the bones are still cartilage with only some starting to develop into bone. When the heel (calcaneus) starts to develop bone, there is generally one large area of development that starts in the center of the cartilage heel. This area of bone spreads to 'fill up' the cartilage. Another area of bone development (ossification) occurs at the back of the heel bone. These two areas of developing bone will have an area of cartilage between them, this is how the bone grows in size. At around age 16, when growth is nearly complete, these two bony areas fuse together. Sever's disease or calcaneal apophysitis is usually considered to be due to damage or a disturbance in this area of growth.

Symptoms

Most children with Sever's complain of pain in the heel that occurs during or after activity (typically running or jumping) and is usually relieved by rest. The pain may be worse when wearing cleats. Sixty percent of children's with Sever's report experiencing pain in both heels.

Diagnosis

Sever?s disease can be diagnosed based on your history and symptoms. Clinically, your physiotherapist will perform a "squeeze test" and some other tests to confirm the diagnosis. Some children suffer Sever?s disease even though they do less exercise than other. This indicates that it is not just training volume that is at play. Foot and leg biomechanics are a predisposing factor. The main factors thought to predispose a child to Sever?s disease include decrease ankle dorsiflexion, abnormal hind foot motion eg overpronation or supination, tight calf muscles, excessive weight-bearing activities eg running.

Non Surgical Treatment

* Cold packs: Apply ice or cold packs to the back of the heels for around 15 minutes after any physical activity, including walking.

* Shoe inserts: Small heel inserts worn inside the shoes can take some of the traction pressure off the Achilles tendons. This will only be required in the short term.

* Medication: Pain-relieving medication may help in extreme cases, but should always be combined with other treatment and following consultation with your doctor).

* Anti-inflammatory creams: Also an effective management tool.

* Splinting or casting: In severe cases, it may be necessary to immobilise the lower leg using a splint or cast, but this is rare.

* Time: Generally the pain will ease in one to two weeks, although there may be flare-ups from time to time.

* Correction of any biomechanical issues: A physiotherapist can identify and discuss any biomechanical issues that may cause or worsen the condition.

* Education: Education on how to self-manage the symptoms and flare-ups of Sever?s disease is an essential part of the treatment.

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