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Severs Disease


INTRODUCTION

Sever's disease or Calcaneal apophysitis is a condition that affects children between the ages of 10 and 13 years. It is characterized by pain in one or both heels with walking. During this phase of life, growth of the bone is taking place at a faster rate than the tendons. Hence there is a relative shortening of the heel-cord compared to the leg bones.

As a result, the tension the heel-cord applies to the heel bone at its insertion is very great. Moreover, the heel cord is attached to a portion of the calcaneus (heel bone) that is still immature, consisting of a mixture of bone and growing cartilage, called the calcaneal apophysis, which is prone to injury. Compounding to this is the fact that all these changes are happening in a very active child, prone to overuse. The end result is therefore an overuse syndrome of injury and inflammation at the heel where the heel cord (Achilles Tendonitis) inserts into the heel bone (Calcaneal apophysitis).

SYMPTOMS

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 (heel bone), and is tender to deep pressure at that site. Walking on his toes relieves the pain.

CAUSES

The actual pathology of the condition is one of more of an overuse syndrome in which the growth plate of the heel may become slightly displaced, causing pain. Biopsies of similar conditions have shown changes consistent with separation of the cartilage.

The cause of Sever's disease is not entirely clear. It is most likely due to overuse or repeated minor trauma that happens in a lot of sporting activities - the cartilage join between the two parts of the bone can not take all the shear stress of the activities. Some children seem to be just more prone to it for an unknown reason - combine this with sport, especially if its on a hard surface and the risk of getting it increases.

A pronated foot and tight calf muscles are common contributing factors.

The condition is very similar to Osgood-Schlatters Disease which occurs at the knee.

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO

  • Help an overweight child lose weight.
  • Encourage your child to exercise moderately, avoiding extremes.

WHAT YOU SHOULD NOT DO

  • Ignore the pain. You can not grow out of this disease!

TREATMENT

Treatment revolves around decreasing activity. Usual treatment has been putting children in a boot in slight equinus, or a cast with the foot in slight equinus, thereby decreasing the tension on the heel cord, which in turn pulls on the growth plate at the heel. As the pain resolves, children are allowed to go back to full activities.

  • Complete resolution may be delayed until growth of the foot is complete (when the growth plate fuses to the rest of the bone of the heel).

  • A soft cushioning heel raise is really important (this reduces the pull from the calf muscles on the growth plate and increases the shock absorption, so the growth plate is not knocked around as much).
  • The use of an ice pack after activity for 20mins is often useful for calcaneal apophysitis - this should be repeated 2 to 3 times a day.
  • If the symptoms are bad enough and are not responding to these measures, medication to help with inflammation may be needed. In some cases the lower limb may need to be put in a cast for 2-6 weeks to give it a good chance to heal.

LONG TERM IMPLICATIONS

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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