When recurring heel pain occurs in children, it is usually due to Sever's Disease, while adult heel pain is usually due to heel spurs, plantar fasciitis, or retrocalcaneal bursitis (Haglund's Deformity). Calcaneus is the anatomical name of the heel bone. Sever's Disease or Calcaneal Apophysitis is an inflammation of the growth plate located at the posterior aspect (back) of the heel.
The foot is one of the first body parts to grow to full size. During the time of growth, bones grow faster than muscles and tendons. This results in the muscles and tendons becoming tight. The strongest tendon that attaches to the heel is the Achilles Tendon. It attaches to the back of the heel at the site of the growth plate, and during sports activities it pulls with great force on the growth plate. If this pull by the tight Achilles Tendon (calf muscle) continues for long periods of time, the growth plate may become inflamed and painful. If exertive activities continue, Sever's Disease may result.
A few signs and symptoms point to Sever?s disease, which may affect one or both heels. These include pain at the heel or around the Achilles tendon, Heel pain during physical exercise, especially activities that require running or jumping, worsening of pain after exercise, a tender swelling or bulge on the heel that is sore to touch, calf muscle stiffness first thing in the morning, limping, a tendency to tiptoe.
Sever?s disease can be diagnosed based on your history and symptoms. Clinically, your physiotherapist will perform a "squeeze test" and some other tests to confirm the diagnosis. Some children suffer Sever?s disease even though they do less exercise than other. This indicates that it is not just training volume that is at play. Foot and leg biomechanics are a predisposing factor. The main factors thought to predispose a child to Sever?s disease include decrease ankle dorsiflexion, abnormal hind foot motion eg overpronation or supination, tight calf muscles, excessive weight-bearing activities eg running.
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.
In some cases, children will simply outgrow Sever's Disease when they reach a certain age, but this does not mean that symptoms should be ignored. If children express that they are in pain, this should always be taken seriously by their parents or guardians. Heel pain may be a sign of Sever's Disease and this condition should not be left untreated, due to the damage it can cause to the growing heel bones. Scheduling a doctor's appointment is always the first step to take in gaining a diagnosis of symptoms and speedy help for the child.