Sever?s is described as a traction apophysitis. In childhood our bones are made of a cartilage mould of the bone, which over time as we grow slowly turns into a full bone. The reason for this is that it is easier to grow cartilage to the length required, and then back fill with bone later than it is to actually grow new bone. Most bones have a least two growth of bone centres, one by the joint and one making the main body of the bone. In the growing heel bone (calcaneus) the posterior part has a separate growth area where the Achilles tendon attaches. When playing lots of sport, especially football, rugby and hockey, the two areas of bone can be pulled apart, producing pain. Recent evidence has also suggested that the appearance of this condition on MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), appears to indicate that Sever?s is a type of stress fracture. Whether that fatigue stress is from compression or tension remains in debate, and is probably a combination of both.
At birth, most of our foot bones are still made of cartilage, which ossifies (becomes bony) over the first few years of life. At the back of the heel, there is a growth plate that is attached to the main body of the heel bone by a cartilaginous join. At about the age of 14-15 years, this area of cartilage between the growth plate and the heel bone ossifies, fusing the area to the heel. Sever?s disease occurs when there is too much motion or strain across the growth plate, resulting in this area becoming inflamed and painful.
Pain symptoms usually begin after a child begins a new sport or sporting season, and can worsen with athletic activities that involve running and jumping. It is common for a child with Sever?s disease to walk with a limp. Increased activity can lead to heel cord tightness (Achilles Tendon), resulting in pressure on the apophysis of the calcaneus. This will cause irritation of the growth plate and sometimes swelling in the heel area thus producing pain. This usually occurs in the early stages of puberty.
X-rays are normal in Sever's disease, but your doctor will probably get X-rays to rule out other problems. Treatment consists of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and use of a heel lift to relieve tension on the calcaneal apophysis. In more severe cases, phycical therapy consisting of modalities to relieve the pain, and stretching exercises may be helpful. In extreme cases, castings have been used.
Non Surgical Treatment
The disease itself is self limiting and will resolve regardless of treatment once the growth plate has fully closed. Depending on the age of the youth at onset this could be a problem for many years. Treatment has always been aimed at managing the pain as well as the inflammation. This is done with the rest, ice, non steroidal anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen, stretching, taping, heel cups, heel lifts and orthotics. In severe cases, cast or walking boot immobilization is used. Each of these have differing levels of efficacy but in my experience orthotics are the golden treatment or the silver bullet. I am not talking about your run of the mill over the counter Dr. Scholls shoe insert. These definitely have their place in the world but not here. Custom molded orthotics made from a mold taken of the youths foot will provide the necessary control and support to stop the pain cycle. We can safely report over 85% of patients who are able to get back to sports and other activities as long as they wear the orthotics in supportive shoes as directed.
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