Calcaneal Apophysitis The Facts

Severs Disease

Overview

Sever?s disease is the most common cause of heel pain in the growing athlete and is due to overuse and repetitive microtrauma of growth plates in the heel. It occurs in children ages 7 to 15, with the majority of patients presenting between 10 and 14 years of age. Sever?s disease will go away on its own when it is used less or when the bone is through growing, but it can recur (for example, at the start of a new sports season). Traditionally, the only known cure was for children to outgrow the condition, with recurrences happening an average of 18 months before this occurs.

Causes

Overuse and stress on the heel bone through participation in sports is a major cause of calcaneal apophysitis. The heel?s growth plate is sensitive to repeated running and pounding on hard surfaces, resulting in muscle strain and inflamed tissue. For this reason, children and adolescents involved in soccer, track, or basketball are especially vulnerable. Other potential causes of calcaneal apophysitis include obesity, a tight Achilles tendon, and biomechanical problems such as flatfoot or a high-arched foot.

Symptoms

Pain is usually felt at the back and side of the heel bone. Sometimes there may be pain at the bottom of the heel. The pain is usually relieved when the child is not active and becomes painful with sport. Squeezing the sides of the heel bone is often painful. Running and jumping make the symptoms worse. One or both heels can be affected. In more severe cases, the child may be limping.

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 a decrease in 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.

Recovery

This condition is self limiting – it will go away when the two parts of bony growth join together – this is natural. Unfortunately, Sever’s disease can be very painful and limit sport activity of the child while waiting for it to go away, so treatment is often advised to help relieve it. In a few cases of Sever’s disease, the treatment is not successful and these children will be restricted in their activity levels until the two growth areas join – usually around the age of 16 years. There are no known long term complications associated with Sever’s disease.

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