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Overview

Sever’s disease occurs in children when the growth plate (which is the growing part of the heel) is injured. The foot is one of the first body parts to grow to full size. This usually occurs in early puberty. During this time, bones often grow faster than muscles and tendons. As a result, muscles and tendons become tight. The heel area is less flexible. During weight-bearing activity (activity performed while standing), the tight heel tendons may put too much pressure at the back of the heel (where the Achilles tendon attaches). This can injure the heel and cause Sever’s disease.

Causes

Sever’s disease can result from standing too long, which puts constant pressure on the heel. Poor-fitting shoes can contribute to the condition by not providing enough support or padding for the feet or by rubbing against the back of the heel. Although Sever’s disease can occur in any child, these conditions increase the chances of it happening. Pronated foot (a foot that rolls in at the ankle when walking), which causes tightness and twisting of the Achilles tendon, thus increasing its pull on the heel’s growth plate, flat or high arch, which affects the angle of the heel within the foot, causing tightness and shortening of the Achilles tendon, short leg syndrome (one leg is shorter than the other), which causes the foot on the short leg to bend downward to reach the ground, pulling on the Achilles tendon, overweight or obesity, which puts weight-related pressure on the growth plate

Symptoms

A few signs and symptoms point to Sever?s disease, which may affect one or both heels. These include pain at the heel or around the Achilles tendon, Heel pain during physical exercise, especially activities that require running or jumping, worsening of pain after exercise, a tender swelling or bulge on the heel that is sore to touch, calf muscle stiffness first thing in the morning, limping, a tendency to tiptoe.

Diagnosis

Sever?s disease can be diagnosed based on your history and symptoms. Clinically, your physiotherapist will perform a “squeeze test” and some other tests to confirm the diagnosis. Some children suffer Sever?s disease even though they do less exercise than other. This indicates that it is not just training volume that is at play. Foot and leg biomechanics are a predisposing factor. The main factors thought to predispose a child to Sever?s disease include a decrease in ankle dorsiflexion, abnormal hind foot motion eg overpronation or supination, tight calf muscles, excessive weight-bearing activities eg running.

Non Surgical Treatment

Occasionally, an orthotic may need to be prescribed for temporary or long-term correction of their foot biomechanics (eg flat feet or high arches). During the acute phase of Sever’s disease a small heel rise or shock-absorbing heel cup placed under the heel pad of your child’s foot may help to ease the symptoms. Your podiatrist or physiotherapist can assess your child’s arch and guide you in the best management of your child’s condition. We recommend that your child should never go barefooted during the painful stages of Sever’s disease.

Prevention

After the painful symptoms of Sever’s disease have gone away, it is important to continue stretching the heel, particularly before a vigorous exercise, and wearing good supportive shoes fitted with children’s arch supports. This will prevent heel pain recurrence until the child’s heel is fully developed and less prone to injury.

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