Sever disease, first described in 1912, is a painful inflammation of the calcaneal apophysis. It is classified with the child and adolescent nonarticular osteochondroses. (The other disease in this group is Iselin disease, which is inflammation of the base of the fifth metatarsal.) The etiology of pain in Sever disease is believed to be repetitive trauma to the weaker structure of the apophysis, induced by the pull of the tendo calcaneus (Achilles tendon) on its insertion. This results in a clinical picture of heel pain in a growing active child, which worsens with activity. Sever disease is a self-limited condition; accordingly, no known complication exists from failure to make the correct diagnosis.
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.
Pain is usually related to activity levels. In most cases the posterior aspect of the calcaneus will be tender. Checking both the medial and lateral aspects of the posterior portion of the growth plate will often show tenderness. Occasionally, the plantar aspect may be tender or both of these locations may be found to be tender. Frequently the Achilles tendon is tight and there may have been a recent increase in activity. The factors contributing to this disorder are similar to those causing plantar fasciitis, but a tight Achilles tendon appears to be a greater contributor than pronation.
A doctor can usually tell that a child has Sever's disease based on the symptoms reported. To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor will probably examine the heels and ask about the child's activity level and participation in sports. The doctor might also use the squeeze test, squeezing the back part of the heel from both sides at the same time to see if doing so causes pain. The doctor might also ask the child to stand on tiptoes to see if that position causes pain. Although imaging tests such as X-rays generally are not that helpful in diagnosing Sever's disease, some doctors order them to rule out other problems, such as fractures. Sever's disease cannot be seen on an X-ray.
Non Surgical Treatment
The treatment of Sever's disease should be individualized. The most important first steps in the treatment of Sever's disease are activity modification (including rest and sometimes crutches) and good shoes. Further treatment may include icing to decrease pain around the calcaneal apophysis, stretching and strengthening exercises, shoe orthotics or medications to relieve pain. Rarely, a removable cast is necessary to completely rest the foot.
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.