Sever’s disease, or calcaneal apophysitis, is a common cause of heel pain in patients whose bones are still growing; however, it is not really a disease. The pain is caused by stress at the point where the Achilles tendon meets tissue called the plantar fascia on the growth plate (apophysis) of the heel bone (calcaneus). Sever’s affects boys more often than girls. Boys are most often affected at age 12, and girls at age 9, though Sever’s is typically seen in children and adolescents between the ages of 7 and 15.
Sever?s disease is often associated with a growth spurt, when the bones grow but the muscles do not. Therefore the muscles effectively become tighter which results in increased stress at the heel. It may also be related to unusual biomechanics, for instance poor foot posture, muscle tightness or muscle weakness. Overtraining or incorrect training can also play a part. Usually, the cause is a combination of factors.
Children aged between 8 to 13 years of age can experience Sever?s disease with girls being normally younger and boys slightly older. Sever?s disease normally involves the back of the heel bone becoming painful towards the end of intense or prolonged activity and can remain painful after the activity for a few hours. Severe cases can result in limping and pain that can even remain the next morning after sport.
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 immediate goal of treatment is pain relief. Because symptoms generally worsen with activity, the main treatment for Sever’s disease is rest, which helps to relieve pressure on the heel bone, decreasing swelling and reducing pain. As directed by the doctor, a child should cut down on or avoid all activities that cause pain until all symptoms are gone, especially running barefoot or on hard surfaces because hard impact on the feet can worsen pain and inflammation. The child might be able to do things that do not put pressure on the heel, such as swimming and biking, but check with a doctor first.
With proper care, your child should feel better within 2 weeks to 2 months. Your child can start playing sports again only when the heel pain is gone. Your doctor will let you know when physical activity is safe.