Severs Disease Physiotherapy

Overview

Although the name might sound pretty frightening, Sever's disease is really a common heel injury that occurs in kids. It can be painful, but is only temporary and has no long-term effects. Sever's disease, also called calcaneal apophysitis, is a painful bone disorder that results from inflammation (swelling) of the growth plate in the heel. A growth plate, also called an epiphyseal plate, is an area at the end of a developing bone where cartilage cells change over time into bone cells. As this occurs, the growth plates expand and unite, which is how bones grow. Sever's disease is a common cause of heel pain in growing kids, especially those who are physically active. It usually occurs during the growth spurt of adolescence, the approximately 2-year period in early puberty when kids grow most rapidly. This growth spurt can begin any time between the ages of 8 and 13 for girls and 10 and 15 for boys. Sever's disease rarely occurs in older teens because the back of the heel usually finishes growing by the age of 15, when the growth plate hardens and the growing bones fuse together into mature bone. Sever's disease is similar to Osgood-Schlatter disease, a condition that affects the bones in the knees.

Causes

Predisposing Hereditary Factors: These are a biomechanical defect that one may be born with, which increases the chances of developing Sever's Disease. Short Achilles Tendon, When the Achilles Tendon is short from birth, it will exaggerate the tightness of this tendon that occurs during a child's growing years. This makes the pull of the Achilles Tendon on the heel's growth plate more forceful than normal, causing inflammation and pain, and eventually Sever's Disease. Short Leg Syndrome, When one leg is shorter than the other, the foot on the short leg must plantar flex (the foot and toes bend down) in order to reach the ground. In this way, the body tries to equalize the length of the legs. In order for the foot to plantar flex, the Achilles Tendon must pull on the heel with greater force than if the leg was a normal length. Thus the heel on the short leg will be more susceptible to Sever's Disease during the foot's growing years. Pronation. Is a biomechanical defect of the foot that involves a rolling outward of the foot at the ankle, so that when walking, the inner side of the heel and foot bears more of the body's weight than is normal (click here for more information about pronation). Pronation thus causes the heel to be tilted or twisted. In order for the Achilles Tendon to attach to the heel, it must twist to reach its normal attachment site. This will shorten or tighten the Achilles Tendon and increase the force of its pull on the heel's growth plate. This will increase the tightness of the Achilles Tendon during the foot's growing years, and may help to initiate bouts of Sever's Disease. Flat Arches and High Arches. Both of these biomechanical foot defects effect the pitch, or angle of the heel within the foot. When the heel is not positioned normally within the foot due to the height of the arch, the Achilles Tendon's attachment to the heel is affected. This may produce a shortening or tightening of the Achilles Tendon, which increases the force of its pull on the heel's growth plate. During the foot's growing years, abnormal arch height may contribute to the onset of Sever's Disease.

Symptoms

In Sever?s disease, heel pain can be in one or both heels. It usually starts after a child begins a new sports season or a new sport. Your child may walk with a limp. The pain may increase when he or she stands on tiptoe. Your child?s heel may hurt if you squeeze both sides toward the very back. This is called the squeeze test. Your provider may also find that your child?s heel tendons have become tight.

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

Treatment includes modifying activities and resting to reduce pain and inflammation and take pressure off the growth center. Ice can also be very helpful in relieving symptoms, as well as anti-inflammatory medication. A physical therapy program should be initiated to stretch tight calf muscles and strengthen the ankle muscles to relieve tension on the growth center. Shoes with padded heel surfaces and good arch support can decrease pain. Cleats may need to be avoided for some time to help reduce symptoms. The doctor may also recommend gel heel cups or supportive shoe inserts.

Surgical Treatment

The surgeon may select one or more of the following options to treat calcaneal apophysitis. Reduce activity. The child needs to reduce or stop any activity that causes pain. Support the heel. Temporary shoe inserts or custom orthotic devices may provide support for the heel. Medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, help reduce the pain and inflammation. Physical therapy. Stretching or physical therapy modalities are sometimes used to promote healing of the inflamed issue. Immobilization. In some severe cases of pediatric heel pain, a cast may be used to promote healing while keeping the foot and ankle totally immobile. Often heel pain in children returns after it has been treated because the heel bone is still growing. Recurrence of heel pain may be a sign of calcaneal apophysitis, or it may indicate a different problem. If your child has a repeat bout of heel pain, be sure to make an appointment with your foot and ankle surgeon.

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