Diagnosing Severs Disease

Overview

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.

Causes

Predisposing Hereditary Factors: These are a biomechanical defect that one may be born with, which increases the chances of developing Sever’s Disease. Short Achilles Tendon, When the Achilles Tendon is short from birth, it will exaggerate the tightness of this tendon that occurs during a child’s growing years. This makes the pull of the Achilles Tendon on the heel’s growth plate more forceful than normal, causing inflammation and pain, and eventually Sever’s Disease. Short Leg Syndrome, When one leg is shorter than the other, the foot on the short leg must plantar flex (the foot and toes bend down) in order to reach the ground. In this way, the body tries to equalize the length of the legs. In order for the foot to plantar flex, the Achilles Tendon must pull on the heel with greater force than if the leg was a normal length. Thus the heel on the short leg will be more susceptible to Sever’s Disease during the foot’s growing years. Pronation. Is a biomechanical defect of the foot that involves a rolling outward of the foot at the ankle, so that when walking, the inner side of the heel and foot bears more of the body’s weight than is normal (click here for more information about pronation). Pronation thus causes the heel to be tilted or twisted. In order for the Achilles Tendon to attach to the heel, it must twist to reach its normal attachment site. This will shorten or tighten the Achilles Tendon and increase the force of its pull on the heel’s growth plate. This will increase the tightness of the Achilles Tendon during the foot’s growing years, and may help to initiate bouts of Sever’s Disease. Flat Arches and High Arches. Both of these biomechanical foot defects effect the pitch, or angle of the heel within the foot. When the heel is not positioned normally within the foot due to the height of the arch, the Achilles Tendon’s attachment to the heel is affected. This may produce a shortening or tightening of the Achilles Tendon, which increases the force of its pull on the heel’s growth plate. During the foot’s growing years, abnormal arch height may contribute to the onset of Sever’s Disease.

Symptoms

Sever?s is recognized by pain in the back and lower regions of the heel. It usually starts during or immediately following the child’s growth spurt, and/or in very active individuals. The child will usually have pain during or following participation in sport, and will often be seen limping off the field or court. Symptoms of Sever’s include painful heel, no swelling or warmth, night pain is absent, pain is worse with increased activity, pain which is usually relieved by rest. Children often hobble or limp from the sports field.

Diagnosis

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

Fortunately Severs? disease can be treated and prevented through a number of different techniques that have all proven highly effective. The heel will repair itself even without active treatment provided that the suffering foot is given a chance to heal. Typically Severs? disease will take 2-8 weeks, although in many cases it can take longer as the continuous growing of the bone can exacerbate the condition. Podiatrists have an important role in preventing Severs? disease in young athletes, and in treating the condition when it develops so children can get back on their feet as quickly as possible. Generally treatment involves stretching muscles running down to the heel to relieve tension and pain, these include the hamstrings and calf muscles, and these stretching exercises will need to be performed at least 2 or 3 times a day. RICE is a classic method of speeding up the recovery of self-healing injuries like Severs? disease. This involves Rest, the application of Ice to the injury, Compression, and finally Elevation to encourage repaid. These measures can be advised by a trained podiatrist, but it is then up to a child to carry on with regular RICE.