Overview

The most common cause of heel pain in children is due to the disturbance or damage of the growth plate at the rear of the heel bone (Calcaneus). This condition is known as Sever?s disease or calcaneal apophysis. It occurs when an increased load is placed on the back of the heel from tension in the calf muscles, causing stress on the cartilaginous joint between the calcaneus and apophysis (growth plate). The condition is self-limiting and will cease when the two parts of the heel bone fuse together, however this may take up to a couple of years in some cases. There is no identified long term complications associated with Sever?s disease. Nevertheless, it is a painful condition that needs treatment when active to reduce pain levels and maintain activity levels of the child until the heel bone fuses into an adult bone.

Causes

Children are at greatest risk of developing Sever’s disease when they have reached the early part of a growth spurt in early puberty. For girls, this is typically around ages 8 to 10. For boys, it happens somewhere between the ages of 10 to 12. By the age of 15, the back of the heel has typically stopped growing in most children, and Sever’s disease becomes rare. Any running or jumping activities can increase the odds that a child will develop Sever’s disease. Soccer and gymnastics are two common sports that tend to put kids at risk.

Symptoms

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.

Diagnosis

Low-grade inflammation of the calcaneal apophysis cannot be seen on x-ray. Therefore, although x-rays are often done to rule out bony injuries in children with Sever’s disease these x-rays are usually normal. Advanced Sever’s disease can be seen on x-ray but usually the problem is treated before it reaches this point. Other diagnostic tests, such as bone scans or MRI’s, are not usually required in typical cases of Sever’s disease. These, or other tests, may be required to rule out other conditions, such as stress fractures of the calcaneus or other bony abnormalities that can mimic Severs disease.

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.

Prevention

The old adage, “An once of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” is most appropriate when trying to prevent the effects of Sever’s Disease. If this condition is not prevented, or treated in its earliest stages, it may cause the child to stop certain sports activities until the growth plate has fused and matured (this usually occurs around the age of 16 years old). Long Term Treatment and Prevention must be directed towards protecting the growth plate at the back of the heel during a child’s growing years. Being aware of the following best does this. If the child is very active in sports that require repetitive and exertive activities, then the parents must be vigilant when it comes to the child’s gait, watching to see if he or she is limping, walking on their toes, or complaining of heel pain when weight-bearing. These may be “early warning signs” of Sever’s Disease. Along with these signs, if your child has any of the Predisposing Hereditary Factors listed above, the chances of Sever’s Disease occurring increased.

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