Severs Disease, otherwise known as Osteochondroses, is the most common injury of its kind to affect children?s feet. The condition predominately affects children between the ages of 8 - 15 and causes pain at the back of the heel where the Achilles tendon inserts onto the bone. Children will complain of pain during activity and may have difficulty walking.
A big tendon called the Achilles tendon joins the calf muscle at the back of the leg to the heel. Sever?s disease is thought to occur because of a mismatch in growth of the calf bones to the calf muscle and Achilles tendon. If the bones grow faster than the muscles, the Achilles tendon that attaches the muscle to the heel gets tight. At the same time, until the cartilage of the calcaneum is ossified (turned into bone), it is a potential weak spot. The tight calf muscle and Achilles tendon cause a traction injury on this weak spot, resulting in inflammation and pain. Sever?s disease most commonly affects boys aged ten to 12 years and girls aged nine to 11 years, when growth spurts are beginning. Sever?s disease heals itself with time, so it is known as self-limiting. There is no evidence to suggest that Sever?s disease causes any long term problems or complications.
This syndrome can occur unilaterally or bilaterally. The incidence of bilaterally is approximately 60%. Common signs and symptoms include posterior inferior heel pain (over the medial and lateral surface of the bone). Pain is usually absent when the child gets up in the morning. Increased pain with weight bearing, running or jumping (= activity-related pain). The area often feels stiff. The child may limp at the end of physical activity. Tenderness at the insertion of the tendons (= an avascular necrosis of the arthropathy). Limited ankle dorsiflexion range secondary to tightness of the Achilles tendon. Hard surfaces and poor-quality or worn-out athletic shoes contribute to increased symptoms. The pain gradually resolves with rest. Reliability or validity of methods used to obtain the ankle joint dorsiflexion or biomechanical malalignment data are not commented upon, thus reducing the quality of the data. Although pain and limping are mentioned as symptomatic traits, there have been no attempts to quantify the pain or its effect on the individual.
A doctor or other health professional such as a physiotherapist can diagnose Sever?s disease by asking the young person to describe their symptoms and by conducting a physical examination. In some instances, an x-ray may be necessary to rule out other causes of heel pain, such as heel fractures. Sever?s disease does not show on an x-ray because the damage is in the cartilage.
Non Surgical Treatment
The primary method of treating Sever?s disease is taking time off from sports and other physical activities to alleviate the pressure on the heel bone. During the healing period, your child?s doctor may also recommend physical therapy or any type of exercise that involves stretching and strengthen leg muscles and tendons. Wrapping ice in a towel and placing it under the child?s heel will also help to alleviate and reduce pain and swelling.
The following exercises are commonly prescribed to patients with Severs disease. You should discuss the suitability of these exercises with your physiotherapist prior to beginning them. Generally, they should be performed 1 - 3 times daily and only provided they do not cause or increase symptoms. Your physiotherapist can advise when it is appropriate to begin the initial exercises and eventually progress to the intermediate, advanced and other exercises. As a general rule, addition of exercises or progression to more advanced exercises should take place provided there is no increase in symptoms. Calf Stretch with Towel. Begin this stretch in long sitting with your leg to be stretched in front of you. Your knee and back should be straight and a towel or rigid band placed around your foot as demonstrated. Using your foot, ankle and the towel, bring your toes towards your head as far as you can go without pain and provided you feel no more than a mild to moderate stretch in the back of your calf, Achilles tendon or leg. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 10 times at a mild to moderate stretch provided the exercise is pain free. Calf Stretch with Towel. Begin this exercise with a resistance band around your foot and your foot and ankle held up towards your head. Slowly move your foot and ankle down against the resistance band as far as possible and comfortable without pain, tightening your calf muscle. Very slowly return back to the starting position. Repeat 10 - 20 times provided the exercise is pain free. Once you can perform 20 repetitions consistently without pain, the exercise can be progressed by gradually increasing the resistance of the band provided there is no increase in symptoms. Bridging. Begin this exercise lying on your back in the position demonstrated. Slowly lift your bottom pushing through your feet, until your knees, hips and shoulders are in a straight line. Tighten your bottom muscles (gluteals) as you do this. Hold for 2 seconds then slowly lower your bottom back down. Repeat 10 times provided the exercise is pain free.