Severs Disease Physical Rehabilitation

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Overview

Sever?s disease is caused by the growth plate in the heel becoming inflamed, and it is the most common cause of heel pain in adolescents. This condition is especially prevalent in children who play sports. Treatment includes ice, rest, and pain relievers to manage pain and discomfort. Any underlying foot conditions may also need to be assessed and managed. Sever?s disease does not cause any permanent damage, and will resolve when the growth of the heel is complete. Sever?s disease (also called calcaneal apophysitis) is a condition that occurs in the growth plate of the heel bone (the calcaneus) in children and adolescents. When the muscles and tendons in the leg and heel exert too much pressure on this growth plate, swelling and pain can result.

Causes

During the growth spurt of early puberty, the heel bone (also called the calcaneus) sometimes grows faster than the leg muscles and tendons. This can cause the muscles and tendons to become very tight and overstretched, making the heel less flexible and putting pressure on the growth plate. The Achilles tendon (also called the heel cord) is the strongest tendon that attaches to the growth plate in the heel. Over time, repeated stress (force or pressure) on the already tight Achilles tendon damages the growth plate, causing the swelling, tenderness, and pain of Sever's disease. Such stress commonly results from physical activities and sports that involve running and jumping, especially those that take place on hard surfaces, such as track, basketball, soccer, and gymnastics.

Symptoms

Patients with Severs disease typically experience pain that develops gradually in the back of the heel or Achilles region. In less severe cases, patients may only experience an ache or stiffness in the heel that increases with rest (especially at night or first thing in the morning). This typically occurs following activities which require strong or repetitive contraction of the calf muscles, such as running (especially uphill) or during sports involving running, jumping or hopping. The pain associated with this condition may also warm up with activity in the initial stages of the condition. As the condition progresses, patients may experience symptoms that increase during activity and affect performance. Pain may also increase when performing a calf stretch or heel raise (i.e. rising up onto tip toes). In severe cases, patients may walk with a limp, have difficulty putting their heel down, or be unable to weight bear on the affected leg. Pain may also increase on firmly touching the affected region and occasionally a bony lump may be palpable or visible at the back of the heel. This condition typically presents gradually overtime and can affect either one or both lower limbs.

Diagnosis

Sever's disease is based on the symptoms reported. To confirm the diagnosis, the clinician will examine the heels and ask about the child's activity level and participation in sports. They may also squeeze the back part of the heel from both sides at the same time to see if doing so causes pain and also ask the child to stand on tiptoes to see if that position causes pain. There may be tightness in the calf muscle, which contributes to tension on the heel. Symptoms are usually worse during or after activity and get better with rest. X-rays generally are not that helpful in diagnosing Sever's disease, but they may be ordered to rule out other problems, such as fractures. Sever's disease cannot be seen on an X-ray.

Non Surgical Treatment

Home treatment consists of calf muscle stretching exercises, heel cushions in the shoes, and/or oral anti-inflammatory medications like Tylenol or Advil. Icing the area may provide some temporary relief. If the condition persists the child should be evaluated by a podiatrist for abnormal foot function. In severe cases a below the knee walking cast may be required. Treatment may require the use of custom-made shoe inserts called orthotics. Orthotics work by correcting foot function and will fit into most normal shoes and athletic cleats.

Recovery

This condition is self limiting - it will go away when the two parts of bony growth join together - this is natural. Unfortunately, Sever's disease can be very painful and limit sport activity of the child while waiting for it to go away, so treatment is often advised to help relieve it. In a few cases of Sever's disease, the treatment is not successful and these children will be restricted in their activity levels until the two growth areas join - usually around the age of 16 years. There are no known long term complications associated with Sever's disease.
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