Calcaneal apophysitis (Sever?s disease) is the most common cause of heel pain in young athletes. Calcaneal apophysitis is a painful inflammation of the heel?s calcaneal apophysis growth plate, believed to be caused by repetitive microtrauma from the pull of the Achilles tendon on the apophysis. Patients with calcaneal apophysitis may have activity-related pain in the posterior aspect of the heel. 60 percent of patients report bilateral pain. This condition is usually treated conservatively with stretching and arch supports. The young athlete should be able to return to normal activities as the pain decreases. Calcaneal apophysitis (Sever?s Disease) may last for months. Increasing pain, despite measures listed below, warrants a return visit to the physician.
The cause of the pain in Severs disease is thought to be the tractional forces applied to the growth plate of the heel bone by the Achilles tendon at the rear of the heel bone and the plantar fascia just beneath the heel bone. This pulling force by the Achilles tendon on the growth plate is often aggravated by tight calf muscles and excessively pronated feet (i.e. feet that ?roll in? too far).
The patient complains of activity related pain that usually settles with rest. On Examination the heel bone - or calcaneum - is tender on one or both sides. The gastrocnemius and soleus muscles (calf muscles) may be tight and bending of the ankle might be limited because of that. Foot pronation (rolling in) often exacerbates the problem. There is rarely anything to see and with no redness or swelling and a pain that comes and goes mum and dad often wait before seeking advice on this condition. The pain may come on partway through a game and get worse or come at the end of the game. Initially pain will be related only to activity but as it gets worse the soreness will still be there the next morning and the child might limp on first getting up.
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
If your child lets you know that his heels are hurting, schedule a doctor's appointment. Your family doctor may or may not refer you to a podiatrist. Treatment for Sever's Disease typically consists of one or more of the following steps. Reducing physical activity. Because Sever's Disease appears to be most common in athletic children, reducing exercise periods will relieve pressure on the heel bones, thereby reducing pain. Your doctor may recommend that your child take a complete break from athletic activity for a set amount of time. Icing the heel bones can help to lower both inflammation and pain levels. Use a cold pack or wrap ice in a towel and apply it to the heels. A new exercise regimen that involves simple stretches designed to lengthen the calf muscles and tendons. Your doctor may prescribe the use of orthotic shoe inserts that will assist your child in maintaining a good level of physical activity. HTP Heel Seats may be an excellent option and have been purchased by many parents as an effective aide for children suffering from Sever's Disease. Read about HTP Heel Seats here and ask your doctor if they are right for your child's unique case. In extreme cases, a doctor may recommend a plaster cast or boot, but typically only if other less cumbersome solutions fail to reduce pain. Some doctors may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications. Never give these to a child yourself, without first seeking a doctor's advice. Some medications carry the risk of serious side effects for children. Only give medications if specifically prescribed your child's physician.
One of the most important things to know about Sever's disease is that, with proper care, the condition usually goes away within 2 weeks to 2 months and does not cause any problems later in life. The sooner Sever's disease is addressed, the quicker recovery is. Most kids can return to physical activity without any trouble once the pain and other symptoms go away. Although Sever's disease generally heals quickly, it can recur if long-term measures are not taken to protect the heel during a child's growing years. One of the most important is to make sure that kids wear proper shoes. Good quality, well-fitting shoes with shock-absorbent (padded) soles help to reduce pressure on the heel. The doctor may also recommend shoes with open backs, such as sandals or clogs, that do not rub on the back of the heel. Shoes that are heavy or have high heels should be avoided. Other preventive measures include continued stretching exercises and icing of the affected heel after activity.