Sever disease refers to a calcaneal apophysitis (an inflammation of the apophysis of the heel) which occurs in children and young adolescents. It typically presents in active young children (especially ones who engage in jumping and running sports).
There are several theories as to the cause of this condition. These range from a tight Achilles tendon, to micro stress fractures of the calcaneal apopyhsis. The prevailing theory suggests that the condition occurs when the child’s growth plate is at its weakest. Combined with increased athletic activity, improper shoe gear and trauma the heel becomes inflamed and painful.
The most prominent symptom of Sever’s disease is heel pain which is usually aggravated by physical activity such as walking, running or jumping. The pain is localised to the posterior and plantar side of the heel over the calcaneal apophysis. Sometimes, the pain may be so severe that it may cause limping and interfere with physical performance in sports. External appearance of the heel is almost always normal, and signs of local disease such as edema, erythema (redness) are absent. The main diagnostic tool is pain on medial- lateral compression of the calcaneus in the area of growth plate, so called squeeze test. Foot radiographs are usually normal. Therefore the diagnosis of Sever’s disease is primarily clinical.
Sever’s disease is based on the symptoms reported. To confirm the diagnosis, the clinician will examine the heels and ask about the child’s activity level and participation in sports. They may also squeeze the back part of the heel from both sides at the same time to see if doing so causes pain and also ask the child to stand on tiptoes to see if that position causes pain. There may be tightness in the calf muscle, which contributes to tension on the heel. Symptoms are usually worse during or after activity and get better with rest. X-rays generally are not that helpful in diagnosing Sever’s disease, but they may be ordered to rule out other problems, such as fractures. Sever’s disease cannot be seen on an X-ray.
Non Surgical Treatment
Your child may need to change or stop doing the activities that cause pain until the growth plate heals. Your child needs to wear shoes with good padding in the heels and good arch support. Special shoes or shoe inserts may help. Pain from Sever’s disease may last weeks to months. The pain may come back if your child returns to sports or strenuous activities too soon.
The following exercises are commonly prescribed to patients with Severs disease. You should discuss the suitability of these exercises with your physiotherapist prior to beginning them. Generally, they should be performed 1 – 3 times daily and only provided they do not cause or increase symptoms. Your physiotherapist can advise when it is appropriate to begin the initial exercises and eventually progress to the intermediate, advanced and other exercises. As a general rule, addition of exercises or progression to more advanced exercises should take place provided there is no increase in symptoms. Calf Stretch with Towel. Begin this stretch in long sitting with your leg to be stretched in front of you. Your knee and back should be straight and a towel or rigid band placed around your foot as demonstrated. Using your foot, ankle and the towel, bring your toes towards your head as far as you can go without pain and provided you feel no more than a mild to moderate stretch in the back of your calf, Achilles tendon or leg. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 10 times at a mild to moderate stretch provided the exercise is pain free. Calf Stretch with Towel. Begin this exercise with a resistance band around your foot and your foot and ankle held up towards your head. Slowly move your foot and ankle down against the resistance band as far as possible and comfortable without pain, tightening your calf muscle. Very slowly return back to the starting position. Repeat 10 – 20 times provided the exercise is pain free. Once you can perform 20 repetitions consistently without pain, the exercise can be progressed by gradually increasing the resistance of the band provided there is no increase in symptoms. Bridging. Begin this exercise lying on your back in the position demonstrated. Slowly lift your bottom pushing through your feet, until your knees, hips and shoulders are in a straight line. Tighten your bottom muscles (gluteals) as you do this. Hold for 2 seconds then slowly lower your bottom back down. Repeat 10 times provided the exercise is pain free.