What Is Severs Disease?
Sever's disease is commonly found in young athletes during early puberty. It is a form of aphophysitis, an inflammatory condition of the growth plate that sits below the insertion of a tendon. In the case of Sever's, the Achilles tendon places tension on the growth plate of the calcaneus (or heel bone). Sever's disease is common in sports like soccer, volleyball, football, basketball and gymnastics, as jumping and running typically exacerbate the condition. Symptoms of Sever's are heel pain that may worsen with activity, and one may also notice a tiptoe gait as the athlete tries to take weight off the heel.
Having flatfeet or very pronated feet can make one prone to Sever's disease. But also patient?s that have a very high arch foot structure tend to have a very high shock and high impact heel strike. This also puts extra stress on the heel and apophysis.
The main symptom of sever's disease is pain and tenderness at the back of the heel which is made worse with physical activity. Tenderness will be felt especially if you press in or give the back of the heel a squeeze from the sides. There may be a lump over the painful area. Another sign is tight calf muscles resulting with reduced range of motion at the ankle. Pain may go away after a period of rest from sporting activities only to return when the young person goes back to training.
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 disease itself is self limiting and will resolve regardless of treatment once the growth plate has fully closed. Depending on the age of the youth at onset this could be a problem for many years. Treatment has always been aimed at managing the pain as well as the inflammation. This is done with the rest, ice, non steroidal anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen, stretching, taping, heel cups, heel lifts and orthotics. In severe cases, cast or walking boot immobilization is used. Each of these have differing levels of efficacy but in my experience orthotics are the golden treatment or the silver bullet. I am not talking about your run of the mill over the counter Dr. Scholls shoe insert. These definitely have their place in the world but not here. Custom molded orthotics made from a mold taken of the youths foot will provide the necessary control and support to stop the pain cycle. We can safely report over 85% of patients who are able to get back to sports and other activities as long as they wear the orthotics in supportive shoes as directed.
For children with Sever's disease, it is important to habitually perform exercises to stretch the hamstrings, calf muscles, and the tendons on the back of the leg. Stretching should be performed 2-3 times a day. Each stretch should be performed for 20 seconds, and both legs should be stretched, even if the pain is only in one heel. Heel cups or an inner shoe heel lifts are often recommended for patient suffering from Sever's disease. Wearing running shoes with built in heel cups can also decrease the symptoms because they can help soften the impact on the heel when walking, running, or standing.