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Sever?s disease is a common cause of heel pain, particularly in the young and physically active. Just before puberty the calf bones typically grow faster than the surrounding soft tissue, which means the Achilles tendon is pulled uncomfortably tight. This can lead to an injured heel. Treatment includes relative rest, modifying activities and teaching the young person how to manage the condition when a flare-up happens. Sever?s disease is self-limiting and rarely causes long-term problems.
Mechanically, the heel takes a beating. And the apophyseal bone is located near the point of impact for the heel bone at heel strike and with most weight bearing activities. This includes running, jumping and walking. Heavy impact activities like soccer, football and gymnastics are commonly associated with this problem. In addition to this, there is traction on this apophyseal bone and the associated physeal line of growth cartilage. This traction on the apopysis (island of bone) along with the impact of weight bearing activities can lead to inflammation and pain. Tight Achilles and calf muscles also can contribute to this problem, and why stretching is discussed later.
The pain associated with Sever’s disease is usually felt along the back of the heel and becomes worse when running or walking. In some children, the pain is so severe they may limp when walking. One of the diagnostic tests for Sever’s disease is the “squeeze test”. Squeezing both sides of the heel together will produce immediate discomfort. Many children feel pain immediately upon waking and may have calf muscle stiffness in the morning.
Sever?s disease can be diagnosed based on the symptoms your child has. Your child?s doctor will conduct a physical examination by squeezing different parts of your child?s foot to see if they cause any pain. An X-ray may be used to rule out other problems, such as a broken bone or fracture.
Non Surgical Treatment
If the child has a pronated foot, a flat or high arch, or another condition that increases the risk of Sever’s disease, the doctor might recommend special shoe inserts, called orthotic devices, such as heel pads that cushion the heel as it strikes the ground, heel lifts that reduce strain on the Achilles tendon by raising the heel, arch supports that hold the heel in an ideal position. If a child is overweight or obese, the doctor will probably also recommend weight loss to decrease pressure on the heel. The risk of recurrence goes away on its own when foot growth is complete and the growth plate has fused to the rest of the heel bone, usually around age 15.
Exercises that help to stretch the calf muscles and hamstrings are effective at treating Sever’s disease. An exercise known as foot curling, in which the foot is pointed away from the body, then curled toward the body in order to help stretch the muscles, has also proven to be very effective at treating Sever’s disease. The curling exercise should be done in sets of 10 or 20 repetitions, and repeated several times throughout the day.