Children with Sever's disease, which is also called calcaneal apophysitis, develop microfractures where the Achilles tendon inserts on the calcaneus, the large bone that makes up the heel of the foot. These microfractures cause pain, which can vary depending on the type of activity your child is doing, and is generally worse after activity and improves with rest. Sever's disease is more common in boys and typically occurs when a child is between 8 and 13 years old. Although it can affect both heels, it more commonly just affects one foot.
During the growth spurt of early puberty, the heel bone (also called the calcaneus) sometimes grows faster than the leg muscles and tendons. This can cause the muscles and tendons to become very tight and overstretched, making the heel less flexible and putting pressure on the growth plate. The Achilles tendon (also called the heel cord) is the strongest tendon that attaches to the growth plate in the heel. Over time, repeated stress (force or pressure) on the already tight Achilles tendon damages the growth plate, causing the swelling, tenderness, and pain of Sever's disease. Such stress commonly results from physical activities and sports that involve running and jumping, especially those that take place on hard surfaces, such as track, basketball, soccer, and gymnastics.
The typical patient is a child between 10 and 13 years of age, complaining of pain in one or both heels with running and walking. The pain is localized to the point of the heel where the tendo-Achilles inserts into the calcaneus, and is tender to deep pressure at that site. Walking on his toes relieves the pain.
Sever condition is diagnosed by detecting the characteristic symptoms and signs above in the older children, particularly boys between 8 and 15 years of age. Sometimes X-ray testing can be helpful as it can occasionally demonstrate irregularity of the calcaneus bone at the point where the Achilles tendon attaches.
Non Surgical Treatment
When the condition flares, it is treated with activity limitation, medication to reduce inflammation (such as ibuprofen [Advil] or naproxen [Aleve]), shoe inserts, heel lifts, cold packs, and sometimes casting when it becomes especially severe. Sever condition is generally a self-limited problem that usually improves within a year.
The surgeon may select one or more of the following options to treat calcaneal apophysitis. Reduce activity. The child needs to reduce or stop any activity that causes pain. Support the heel. Temporary shoe inserts or custom orthotic devices may provide support for the heel. Medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, help reduce the pain and inflammation. Physical therapy. Stretching or physical therapy modalities are sometimes used to promote healing of the inflamed issue. Immobilization. In some severe cases of pediatric heel pain, a cast may be used to promote healing while keeping the foot and ankle totally immobile. Often heel pain in children returns after it has been treated because the heel bone is still growing. Recurrence of heel pain may be a sign of calcaneal apophysitis, or it may indicate a different problem. If your child has a repeat bout of heel pain, be sure to make an appointment with your foot and ankle surgeon.