Sever?s disease is a painful condition of the heel affecting children, usually at the beginning of the growth spurt in early puberty. It is caused by inflammation at the growth plate at the back of the heel, adjacent to the Achilles tendon attachment. This is one of the most common causes of heel pain in school-aged children. Physically active children aged between eight and fourteen years old are most at risk of developing pain from Sever?s disease. It is common among children involved in soccer, little athletics, gymnastics, basketball and netball but can affect children involved in any running or jumping activity. Boys seem to be more commonly affected than girls.
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.
The typical clinical presentation is an active child (aged 9-10 years) who complains of pain at the posterior heel that is made worse by sports, especially those involving running or jumping. The onset is usually gradual. Often, the pain has been relieved somewhat with rest and consequently has been patiently monitored by the patient, parents, coaches, trainers, and family physicians, in the expectation that it will resolve. When the pain continues to interfere with sports performance and then with daily activities, further consultation is sought. It should be kept in mind that failure to instruct patients and parents that continual pain, significant swelling or redness, and fever are not signs of Sever disease and therefore require further evaluation could result in failure to diagnose a condition with much more serious long-term consequences.
Your Podiatrist or Physiotherapist will assist in diagnosing the injury and the extent of the damage. From this, they will develop a management plan which may include rest or activity modification, soft tissue treatment such as massage and stretching, correction of biomechanics through heel raises or orthoses and the progression through a series of specific strengthening exercises.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment depends on the severity of the condition, but may include relative rest and modified activity, a physiotherapist can help work out what, and how much, activity to undertake. Cold packs, apply ice or cold packs to the back of the heels for around 15 minutes after any physical activity, including walking. Shoe inserts, small heel inserts worn inside the shoes can take some of the traction pressure off the Achilles tendons. This will only be required in the short term. Medication, pain-relieving medication may help in extreme cases, but should always be combined with other treatment and following consultation with your doctor). Anti-inflammatory creams are also an effective management tool. Splinting or casting, in severe cases, it may be necessary to immobilise the lower leg using a splint or cast, but this is rare. Time, generally the pain will ease in one to two weeks, although there may be flare-ups from time to time. Correction of any biomechanical issues, a physiotherapist can identify and discuss any biomechanical issues that may cause or worsen the condition. Education on how to self-manage the symptoms and flare-ups of Sever?s disease is an essential part of the treatment.
To prevent recurrence, patients, parents, coaches, and trainers should be instructed regarding a good preexercise stretching program for the child. Early in the season, encouragement should be given for a preseason conditioning and stretching program. Coaches and trainers should be educated about recognition of the clinical symptoms so they are able to initiate early protective measures and seek medical referral when necessary.