As children reach their growth spurt in early puberty, the heel is one of the first body parts to grow to full size. Because children's bones are growing so fast, the muscles or tendons can't keep up and often become tight. The tight heel tendons can put a lot of stress on the heel, especially if a child is involved in athletics or other weight-bearing activity. Over time, too much pressure on the heel can injure it and result in Sever's disease, also called calcaneal apophysitis.
The spontaneous development of pain in children generally indicates some form of injury to the growth plate of a growing bone. This can occur without a specific memorable event. When pain occurs in the heel of a child the most likely cause is due to injury of the growth plate in the heel bone. This is called Sever's disease. A condition that may mimic Seiver's disease is Achilles tendonitis. Achilles tendonitis is inflammation of the tendon attached to the back of the heel. A tight Achilles tendon may contribute to Sever's disease by pulling excessively on the growth plate of the heel bone. It is frequently seen in the active soccer, football or baseball player. Sport shoes with cleats seem to aggravate the condition. It is believed that the condition is due to an underlying mechanical problem with the way the foot functions.
Patients with Severs disease typically experience pain that develops gradually in the back of the heel or Achilles region. In less severe cases, patients may only experience an ache or stiffness in the heel that increases with rest (especially at night or first thing in the morning). This typically occurs following activities which require strong or repetitive contraction of the calf muscles, such as running (especially uphill) or during sports involving running, jumping or hopping. The pain associated with this condition may also warm up with activity in the initial stages of the condition. As the condition progresses, patients may experience symptoms that increase during activity and affect performance. Pain may also increase when performing a calf stretch or heel raise (i.e. rising up onto tip toes). In severe cases, patients may walk with a limp, have difficulty putting their heel down, or be unable to weight bear on the affected leg. Pain may also increase on firmly touching the affected region and occasionally a bony lump may be palpable or visible at the back of the heel. This condition typically presents gradually overtime and can affect either one or both lower limbs.
Sever disease is most often diagnosed clinically, and radiographic evaluation is believed to be unnecessary by many physicians, but if a diagnosis of calcaneal apophysitis is made without obtaining radiographs, a lesion requiring more aggressive treatment could be missed. Foot radiographs are usually normal and the radiologic identification of calcaneal apophysitis without the absence of clinical information was not reliable.
Non Surgical Treatment
Activity Modification: to decrease the pain, limiting sporting activities is essential. Cutting back on the duration, intensity, and frequency can significantly improve symptoms. Heel cord stretching is important if heel cord tightness is present. Heel cushions/cups or soft orthotics decreases the impact on the calcaneus by distributing and cushioning the weight bearing of the heel. Use of NSAIDS. Ibuprofen (Nuprin, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) can decrease pain and secondary swelling. Ice. Placing cold or ice packs onto the painful heel can alleviate pain. Short-leg cast. For recalcitrant symptoms a short-leg cast is occasionally used to force rest the heel.
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.