A common cause of heel pain in growing adolescents, particularly those that are actively participating in sport is a condition known as Severs disease. While the suggestion of a ?disease? to your child may conjure up images of a life threatening disorder crippling your child, Severs disease is not nearly so sinister and can be easily fixed.
Mechanically, the heel takes a beating. And the apophyseal bone is located near the point of impact for the heel bone at heel strike and with most weight bearing activities. This includes running, jumping and walking. Heavy impact activities like soccer, football and gymnastics are commonly associated with this problem. In addition to this, there is traction on this apophyseal bone and the associated physeal line of growth cartilage. This traction on the apopysis (island of bone) along with the impact of weight bearing activities can lead to inflammation and pain. Tight Achilles and calf muscles also can contribute to this problem, and why stretching is discussed later.
The typical clinical presentation is an active child (aged 9-10 years) who complains of pain at the posterior heel that is made worse by sports, especially those involving running or jumping. The onset is usually gradual. Often, the pain has been relieved somewhat with rest and consequently has been patiently monitored by the patient, parents, coaches, trainers, and family physicians, in the expectation that it will resolve. When the pain continues to interfere with sports performance and then with daily activities, further consultation is sought. It should be kept in mind that failure to instruct patients and parents that continual pain, significant swelling or redness, and fever are not signs of Sever disease and therefore require further evaluation could result in failure to diagnose a condition with much more serious long-term consequences.
Most often, a healthcare professional can diagnose Sever?s disease by taking a careful history and administering a few simple tests during the physical exam. A practitioner may squeeze the heel on either side; when this move produces pain, it may be a sign of Sever?s disease. The practitioner may also ask the child to stand on their tiptoes, because pain that occurs when standing in this position can also be an indication of Sever?s disease.
Non Surgical Treatment
Massage the calves gently from the knee to the heel, being especially careful around the Achilles? tendon, as this will be extremely tight and tender. During this massage, flex and point the foot through normal pain-free ranges of motion to increase flexibility while massaging. Massage every other or every third day, making sure your young athlete is not still sore before massaging again. If you?re unsure how to massage, find someone in your area that uses Graston technique or Active Release Therapy for best results. Stretch your athlete?s calves. This is the most overlooked aspect of treatment for Sever?s Disease and this needs to be done every day after practice, and when first starting we recommend 2-3 times per day, allowing gravity to pull heel down, never forcing the stretch. Ice your heels, but don?t just put an ice pack there. Use a cold water soak to fully immerse the foot and calves up to the knee. We recommend using a rubbermaid can found here. Soak for 10-15 minutes. The water does not have to be frigid, just cold. Use cold water from the tap, insert the foot, then add some ice to help bring down the temperature. When your athlete is experiencing pain, ice every hour, on the hour, for as many times as possible in one day. Make sure the heel/calves are body temperature before beginning again. Support the arches. This is what has been shown in studies to reduce pain in young athletes with Sever?s Disease. If you miss out on this one, you miss out on relieving your athletes pain.
Receiving the initial diagnosis of Sever?s disease can be scary, and while the situation is painful, there is good news. If treated properly and quickly, Sever?s disease is temporary and will have no long-term effects on the athlete.