Dealing With Severs Disease

Overview

Children with Sever's disease, which is also called calcaneal apophysitis, develop microfractures where the Achilles tendon inserts on the calcaneus, the large bone that makes up the heel of the foot. These microfractures cause pain, which can vary depending on the type of activity your child is doing, and is generally worse after activity and improves with rest. Sever's disease is more common in boys and typically occurs when a child is between 8 and 13 years old. Although it can affect both heels, it more commonly just affects one foot.

Causes

A big tendon called the Achilles tendon joins the calf muscle at the back of the leg to the heel. Sever?s disease is thought to occur because of a mismatch in growth of the calf bones to the calf muscle and Achilles tendon. If the bones grow faster than the muscles, the Achilles tendon that attaches the muscle to the heel gets tight. At the same time, until the cartilage of the calcaneum is ossified (turned into bone), it is a potential weak spot. The tight calf muscle and Achilles tendon cause a traction injury on this weak spot, resulting in inflammation and pain. Sever?s disease most commonly affects boys aged ten to 12 years and girls aged nine to 11 years, when growth spurts are beginning. Sever?s disease heals itself with time, so it is known as self-limiting. There is no evidence to suggest that Sever?s disease causes any long term problems or complications.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of Sever?s disease include heel pain can be in one or both heels, and it can come and go over time. Many children walk or run with a limp, they may walk on their toes to avoid pressure on their heels. Heel pain may increase with running or jumping, wearing stiff, hard shoes (ex. soccer cleats, flip-flops) or walking barefoot. The pain may begin after increasing physical activity, such as trying a new sport or starting a new sports season.

Diagnosis

A physical exam of the heel will show tenderness over the back of the heel but not in the Achilles tendon or plantar fascia. There may be tightness in the calf muscle, which contributes to tension on the heel. The tendons in the heel get stretched more in patients with flat feet. There is greater impact force on the heels of athletes with a high-arched, rigid foot.

Non Surgical Treatment

Sever?s disease will go away on its own with rest or after heel bone growth is complete, usually within 2 to 8 weeks after the heel pain or discomfort appears. Sever?s disease is not expected to cause long-term problems, though symptoms may linger for up to several years in severe cases. Certain conservative care measures may be helpful in treating this health problem, including avoiding activities that provoke pain or discomfort, elevating the leg while at rest, performing hamstring and calf muscle stretches two to three times per day, undergoing physical therapy, using cold therapy, using an elastic wrap or compression stocking, Avoiding footwear with heel elevation, toe spring, and toe taper, and instead favoring footwear that?s completely flat and widest at the ends of the toes. More aggressive treatment measures, including over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication (e.g. ibuprofen), steroid injections, and surgery, may be indicated in certain cases. Addressing the footwear component of this health problem is an important part of a well-rounded Sever?s disease treatment plan. Optimal footwear for preventing or treating this problem is flat, wide (widest at the ends of the toes), and flexible in the sole. Open-back footwear (such as certain Crocs models) may be particularly helpful for kids and teens with Sever?s disease.

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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