Severs Disease The Facts

Overview

The calcaneal apophysis is a growth center where the Achilles tendon and the plantar fascia attach to the heel. It first appears in children aged 7 to 8 years. By ages 12 to 14 years the growth center matures and fuses to the heel bone. Injuries can occur from excessive tension on the Achilles tendon and the plantar fascia, or from direct impact on the heel. Excessive stress on this growth center can cause irritation of the heel, also called Sever?s disease.

Causes

Sever's disease 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

Typically, the sports injury occurs where the achilles tendon attaches to the bone. The epiphyseal growth plate is located at the end of a developing bone where cartilage turns into bone cells. As the growth center expands and unites, this area may become inflamed, causing severe pain when both sides of the heel are compressed. There is typically no swelling and no warmth, so it?s not always an easy condition to spot. The child usually has trouble walking, stiffness upon waking, and pain with activity that subsides during periods of rest.

Diagnosis

To diagnose the cause of the child?s heel pain and rule out other more serious conditions, the foot and ankle surgeon obtains a thorough medical history and asks questions about recent activities. The surgeon will also examine the child?s foot and leg. X-rays are often used to evaluate the condition. Other advanced imaging studies and laboratory tests may also be ordered.

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.

Exercise

The following exercises are commonly prescribed to patients with Severs disease. You should discuss the suitability of these exercises with your physiotherapist prior to beginning them. Generally, they should be performed 1 - 3 times daily and only provided they do not cause or increase symptoms. Your physiotherapist can advise when it is appropriate to begin the initial exercises and eventually progress to the intermediate, advanced and other exercises. As a general rule, addition of exercises or progression to more advanced exercises should take place provided there is no increase in symptoms. Calf Stretch with Towel. Begin this stretch in long sitting with your leg to be stretched in front of you. Your knee and back should be straight and a towel or rigid band placed around your foot as demonstrated. Using your foot, ankle and the towel, bring your toes towards your head as far as you can go without pain and provided you feel no more than a mild to moderate stretch in the back of your calf, Achilles tendon or leg. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 10 times at a mild to moderate stretch provided the exercise is pain free. Calf Stretch with Towel. Begin this exercise with a resistance band around your foot and your foot and ankle held up towards your head. Slowly move your foot and ankle down against the resistance band as far as possible and comfortable without pain, tightening your calf muscle. Very slowly return back to the starting position. Repeat 10 - 20 times provided the exercise is pain free. Once you can perform 20 repetitions consistently without pain, the exercise can be progressed by gradually increasing the resistance of the band provided there is no increase in symptoms. Bridging. Begin this exercise lying on your back in the position demonstrated. Slowly lift your bottom pushing through your feet, until your knees, hips and shoulders are in a straight line. Tighten your bottom muscles (gluteals) as you do this. Hold for 2 seconds then slowly lower your bottom back down. Repeat 10 times provided the exercise is pain free.

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