Sever's disease, or calcaneal apophysitis, is a common cause of heel pain in patients whose bones are still growing; however, it is not really a disease. The pain is caused by stress at the point where the Achilles tendon meets tissue called the plantar fascia on the growth plate (apophysis) of the heel bone (calcaneus). Sever's affects boys more often than girls. Boys are most often affected at age 12, and girls at age 9, though Sever's is typically seen in children and adolescents between the ages of 7 and 15.
Sever?s disease is often associated with a growth spurt, when the bones grow but the muscles do not. Therefore the muscles effectively become tighter which results in increased stress at the heel. It may also be related to unusual biomechanics, for instance poor foot posture, muscle tightness or muscle weakness. Overtraining or incorrect training can also play a part. Usually, the cause is a combination of factors.
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?s disease is diagnosed based on a doctor?s physical examination of the lower leg, ankle, and foot. If the diagnosis is in question, the doctor may order x-rays or an MRI to determine if there are other injuries that may be causing the heel pain.
Non Surgical Treatment
The disease itself is self limiting and will resolve regardless of treatment once the growth plate has fully closed. Depending on the age of the youth at onset this could be a problem for many years. Treatment has always been aimed at managing the pain as well as the inflammation. This is done with the rest, ice, non steroidal anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen, stretching, taping, heel cups, heel lifts and orthotics. In severe cases, cast or walking boot immobilization is used. Each of these have differing levels of efficacy but in my experience orthotics are the golden treatment or the silver bullet. I am not talking about your run of the mill over the counter Dr. Scholls shoe insert. These definitely have their place in the world but not here. Custom molded orthotics made from a mold taken of the youths foot will provide the necessary control and support to stop the pain cycle. We can safely report over 85% of patients who are able to get back to sports and other activities as long as they wear the orthotics in supportive shoes as directed.
To reduce the risk of heel pain or sore heels from Sever?s Disease. Only wear properly fitting shoes. A lace up shoe with a firm heel counter. Stretch calf and foot before exercising or playing sports. Properly taping the foot provides excellent protection and immediate pain relief. Wear shoe inserts or an over-the-counter orthotic. If the problem persists, consult your foot doctor.