The muscle group at the back of the lower leg is commonly called the calf. The calf comprises of 2 major muscles (known as the gastrocnemius and soleus) both of which insert into the heel bone via the Achilles tendon. In people who have not yet reached skeletal maturity, a growth plate exists where the Achilles tendon inserts into the heel bone. This growth plate is primarily comprised of cartilage. Every time the calf contracts, it pulls on the Achilles tendon which in turn pulls on the heel's growth plate. When this tension is too forceful or repetitive, irritation to the growth plate may occur resulting in pain and sometimes an increased bony prominence at the back of the heel. This condition is called Severs disease. Severs disease is typically seen in children or adolescents during periods of rapid growth. This is because muscles and tendons become tighter as bones become longer. As a result, more tension is placed on the heel's growth plate.
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.
The pain associated with Sever's disease is usually felt along the back of the heel and becomes worse when running or walking. In some children, the pain is so severe they may limp when walking. One of the diagnostic tests for Sever's disease is the "squeeze test". Squeezing both sides of the heel together will produce immediate discomfort. Many children feel pain immediately upon waking and may have calf muscle stiffness in the morning.
Low-grade inflammation of the calcaneal apophysis cannot be seen on x-ray. Therefore, although x-rays are often done to rule out bony injuries in children with Sever's disease these x-rays are usually normal. Advanced Sever's disease can be seen on x-ray but usually the problem is treated before it reaches this point. Other diagnostic tests, such as bone scans or MRI's, are not usually required in typical cases of Sever's disease. These, or other tests, may be required to rule out other conditions, such as stress fractures of the calcaneus or other bony abnormalities that can mimic Severs disease.
Non Surgical Treatment
The good news is that the condition doesn?t cause any long-term foot problems. Symptoms typically go away after a few months. The best treatment is simply rest. Your child will need to stop or cut down on sports until the pain gets better. When she's well enough to return to her sport, have her build up her playing time gradually. Your doctor may also recommend ice packs or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, to relieve the pain. Supportive shoes and inserts that reduce stress on the heel bone. These can help if your child has another foot problem that aggravates Sever?s disease, such as flat feet or high arches. Stretching and strengthening exercises, perhaps with the help of a physical therapist. In severe cases, your child may need a cast so her heel is forced to rest.
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.