Severs Disease The Facts

Overview

This is a condition that is quite often misdiagnosed as growing pains this generally affects boys more than it may affects girls, especially between the ages of 9 and 15. This is a common disease in children that play the following sports. Soccer. Football. Basketball. Hockey. However it is not limited just to these sports, nor is it simply a pre-season type condition related to fitness. Sever?s Disease is common and although it does not sound good there is no need to panic as it is not something you can catch or incurable. Children have a growth plate in the heel bone, which at puberty becomes solid and forms part of the heel, prior to puberty this can cause pain especially if the child?s foot rolls inwards or outwards too much, this can cause increased stress on this growth plate and therefore causes pain.

Causes

The large calf muscles attach to the heel via a large tendon called the Achilles tendon (See image below). The function of this tendon is to transmit forces produced by the calf muscles to the heel bone. In children, the portion of the heel bone into which the Achilles tendon inserts is separated from the bulk of the heel bone by a growth plate. This growth plate enables bone growth to occur. However, it also represents a site of weakness in the bone. Forcible and repeated contraction of the calf muscles can injure the growth plate. This commonly occurs during a period of rapid growth where the muscles and tendons become tighter as the bones grow. This leads to increased pulling of the calf muscles and Achilles tendon on the heel bone and growth plate.

Symptoms

A few signs and symptoms point to Sever?s disease, which may affect one or both heels. These include pain at the heel or around the Achilles tendon, Heel pain during physical exercise, especially activities that require running or jumping, worsening of pain after exercise, a tender swelling or bulge on the heel that is sore to touch, calf muscle stiffness first thing in the morning, limping, a tendency to tiptoe.

Diagnosis

This can include physical examination and x-ray evaluation. X-rays may show some increased density or sclerosis of the apophysis (island of bone on the back of the heel). This problem may be on one side or bilateral.

Non Surgical 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. As a pronated foot is common in children with this problem, a discussion regarding the use of long term foot orthotics may be important. 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.

Exercise

Stretching exercises can help. It is important that your child performs exercises to stretch the hamstring and calf muscles, and the tendons on the back of the leg. The child should do these stretches 2 or 3 times a day. Each stretch should be held for about 20 seconds. Both legs should be stretched, even if the pain is only in 1 heel. Your child also needs to do exercises to strengthen the muscles on the front of the shin. To do this, your child should sit on the floor, keeping his or her hurt leg straight. One end of a bungee cord or piece of rubber tubing is hooked around a table leg. The other end is hitched around the child's toes. The child then scoots back just far enough to stretch the cord. Next, the child slowly bends the foot toward his or her body. When the child cannot bend the foot any closer, he or she slowly points the foot in the opposite direction (toward the table). This exercise (15 repetitions of "foot curling") should be done about 3 times. The child should do this exercise routine a few times daily.

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