The calcaneal apophysis is a growth center where the Achilles tendon and the plantar fascia attach to the heel. It first appears in children aged 7 to 8 years. By ages 12 to 14 years the growth center matures and fuses to the heel bone. Injuries can occur from excessive tension on the Achilles tendon and the plantar fascia, or from direct impact on the heel. Excessive stress on this growth center can cause irritation of the heel, also called Sever?s disease.
One of the most common causes of heel pain in adolescents, Sever's disease is an overuse injury to the growth plate of the calcaneus (heel). It is commonly seen in growing, active children 8-12 years of age. Soccer players, gymnasts, and children who do any sort of running or jumping activity have an increased risk of developing Sever's disease. Occurring in one or both feet, Sever?s disease occurs at the back of the heel (also known as the apophysis or the insertion of the Achilles tendon).
Sever?s disease is a clinical diagnosis based on the youth?s presenting symptoms, rather than on diagnostic tests. While x-rays may be ordered in the process of diagnosing the disease, they are used primarily to rule out bone fractures or other bone abnormalities, rather than to confirm the disease. Common Characteristics of Sever?s Disease include Posterior inferior heel pain. Pain is usually absent when waking in the morning. Increased pain with weight bearing, running, or jumping (or activity-related pain). Area often feels stiff or inflexible. Youth may limp at the end of physical activity. Tenderness at the insertion of the tendons. Limited ankle dorsiflexion range that is secondary to tightness of the Achilles tendon. Activity or sport practices on hard surfaces can also contribute to pain, as well as poor quality shoes, worn out shoes, or the wrong shoes for the sport. Typically, the pain from this disease gradually resolves with rest.
To diagnose the cause of the child?s heel pain and rule out other more serious conditions, the foot and ankle surgeon obtains a thorough medical history and asks questions about recent activities. The surgeon will also examine the child?s foot and leg. X-rays are often used to evaluate the condition. Other advanced imaging studies and laboratory tests may also be ordered.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment is primarily supportive, with rest, pain management, and activity modification. Activity modifications include the addition of low-impact activities. Gel heel cups are sold over the counter and can be used intermittently to help reduce shock in the heel, as well as take tension off of the tight Achilles?s tendon complex. Proper stretching and strengthening activities should be preformed routinely even during periods of no pain. A large study showed that approximately 85% of children affected by Sever?s disease return to full activity within a two-month time period after starting treatment.
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.