Growing pains are very common among physically active children ages 9 to 14. These growing pains or bone disorders are only temporary and have no long-term effects. Sever's disease, also known as calcaneal apophysitis, is a painful swelling and inflammation of the growth plate in the heel.
The pain of Severs usually occurs because of inflammation and micro-trauma to the growth plate of the heel bone. This can be caused by a sudden increase in activity, running on very hard surfaces, a growth spurt, tight muscles or feet that roll in.
The condition can be quite disabling and tends to affect those who are very busy with sporting activities. In the initial stages of the condition, most children displaying signs of Severs disease will tend to hobble or limp off the sports field or court and complain of sore heels near the end of activity. As the condition progresses, children may complain of pain during activity and in severe cases prior to sporting activities. Kids heel pain can be quite discouraging for active children but, early treatment can resolve this type of foot pain in children very quickly.
X-rays are normal in Sever's disease, but your doctor will probably get X-rays to rule out other problems. Treatment consists of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and use of a heel lift to relieve tension on the calcaneal apophysis. In more severe cases, phycical therapy consisting of modalities to relieve the pain, and stretching exercises may be helpful. In extreme cases, castings have been used.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment for Sever?s disease is mainly supportive, to stop inflammation and reduce pain. The condition will resolve on its own when the growth in the growth plate is complete, but until then, measures can be taken to resolve pain and discomfort. Applying ice to the painful or swollen areas on the foot may provide some short-term relief from pain and prevent further inflammation. Ice can be applied for about 20 minutes two or three times a day. Footwear that is too big, too small, or does not provide proper support can exacerbate the symptoms of Sever?s disease. Supportive footwear is important to prevent discomfort, especially in children who participate in sports and activities that take place on a hard surface (such as pavement or a basketball court). Shoes should also have adequate padding and not rub against the heel. In some cases, shoes that do not have heels (such as sandals) may be more comfortable to wear while the heel is healing, but care should be taken that the shoe provides proper support to the rest of the foot. Children with Sever?s disease should avoid going barefoot.Children with flat feet, high arches, or over-pronation may need treatment to resolve these underlying conditions. In many cases, an orthotic worn inside the shoe can help put the foot into a better alignment and provide relief to the foot or the arch. Children who are overweight or obese may be counseled to lose weight. Being overweight can contribute to the development of several conditions, including Sever?s disease. Resting the foot and discontinuing sports and other activities until the pain and stiffness is resolved may be recommended. In extreme cases, a walking boot or a cast might be used to completely immobilize the foot. A physical therapist may recommend stretching exercises for the muscles in the calf and the Achilles tendon. A stretching routine is usually done several times a day. Stretching these muscles can help improve strength and decrease the stress on the heel plate. Some physicians may recommend over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Care must be taken when administering these medications to children, especially with acetaminophen, as overdoses are possible when using more than one medication containing acetaminophen. Aspirin should never be given to children. The utility of pain relievers in children must be weighed against their possible side effects. For small variations-less than an inch or so-shoe lifts can help equalize the length of the legs. In cases with more variation between legs, surgical solutions may be considered. Research indicates that targeted manual therapy techniques performed by a licensed physical therapist can help to reduce pain from Sever?s Disease and to improve muscle function. When the larger calf muscles and the smaller ankle and foot muscles become tight, this tightness can affect the mechanics of the ankle joint. Manual therapy includes both joint and muscle release techniques to restore optimal function to the calf, ankle, and foot muscles, and results can generally be achieved within a few months.
Because there are several theories as to the actual cause of the disease, there is no definitive answer on prevention. Experts agree, though, that youth athletes can help minimize the risk of Sever's disease by maintaining good joint and muscle flexibility while engaging in sports or physical activities.