Diagnosing Severs Disease

Overview

It is important to know that foot pain is not only limited to grown-ups. Often active, healthy children will complain of pain in one or both heels shortly after walking, running, engaging or playing sports. The pain is usually felt at the back of, or under the heel. The cause of heel pain in children is usually a condition called calcaneal apophysitis or Sever’s Disease, normally reported by 8 to 14 year olds.

Causes

Sever’s disease also can result from standing too long, which puts constant pressure on the heel. Poor-fitting shoes can contribute to the condition by not providing enough support or padding for the feet or by rubbing against the back of the heel. Although Sever’s disease can occur in any child, these conditions increase the chances of it happening, pronated foot (a foot that rolls in at the ankle when walking), which causes tightness and twisting of the Achilles tendon, thus increasing its pull on the heel’s growth plate, flat or high arch, which affects the angle of the heel within the foot, causing tightness and shortening of the Achilles tendon, short leg syndrome (one leg is shorter than the other), which causes the foot on the short leg to bend downward to reach the ground, pulling on the Achilles tendon, overweight or obesity, which puts weight-related pressure on the growth plate.

Symptoms

The most prominent symptom of Sever’s disease is heel pain which is usually aggravated by physical activity such as walking, running or jumping. The pain is localised to the posterior and plantar side of the heel over the calcaneal apophysis. Sometimes, the pain may be so severe that it may cause limping and interfere with physical performance in sports. External appearance of the heel is almost always normal, and signs of local disease such as edema, erythema (redness) are absent. The main diagnostic tool is pain on medial- lateral compression of the calcaneus in the area of growth plate, so called squeeze test. Foot radiographs are usually normal. Therefore the diagnosis of Sever’s disease is primarily clinical.

Diagnosis

The doctor may order an x-ray because x-rays can confirm how mature the growth center is and if there are other sources of heel pain, such as a stress fracture or bone cyst. However, x-rays are not necessary to diagnose Sever?s disease, and it is not possible to make the diagnosis based on the x-ray alone.

Non Surgical Treatment

Treatment is primarily supportive, with rest, pain management, and activity modification. Activity modifications include the addition of low-impact activities. Gel heel cups are sold over the counter and can be used intermittently to help reduce shock in the heel, as well as take tension off of the tight Achilles?s tendon complex. Proper stretching and strengthening activities should be preformed routinely even during periods of no pain. A large study showed that approximately 85% of children affected by Sever?s disease return to full activity within a two-month time period after starting treatment.

Recovery

Receiving the initial diagnosis of Sever?s disease can be scary, and while the situation is painful, there is good news. If treated properly and quickly, Sever?s disease is temporary and will have no long-term effects on the athlete.

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