One of the most common complaints of youth athletes is heel pain. This generally occurs during the early portion of the growth phase around 8-10 years old, and can recur towards the end of growth, (14-16 years old). Symptoms are typically in the back portion of the heel, can occur unilaterally or bilaterally, usually having a gradual onset. The heel bone?s growth plate is in this area, which is immature soft bone and cartilage. A ?tug of war? occurs in this region from the foot growing longer and the leg bones getting taller, which puts tension on this heel bone area known as the calcaneal apophysis. The inflammation is called calcaneal apophysitis or ?Sever?s disease?.
Sever?s disease is most likely to occur during the growth spurt that occurs in adolescence. For girls, growth spurts usually occurs between 8 and 13 years of age. For boys, it?s typically between 10 and 15 years of age. The back of the heel hardens and becomes stronger when it finishes growing, which is why Sever?s rarely occurs in older adolescents and teenagers.
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.
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
Occasionally, an orthotic may need to be prescribed for temporary or long-term correction of their foot biomechanics (eg flat feet or high arches). During the acute phase of Sever's disease a small heel rise or shock-absorbing heel cup placed under the heel pad of your child's foot may help to ease the symptoms. Your podiatrist or physiotherapist can assess your child's arch and guide you in the best management of your child's condition. We recommend that your child should never go barefooted during the painful stages of Sever's disease.
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.