What Is Severs Disease?

Overview

The muscle group at the back of the lower leg is commonly called the calf. The calf comprises of 2 major muscles (known as the gastrocnemius and soleus) both of which insert into the heel bone via the Achilles tendon. In people who have not yet reached skeletal maturity, a growth plate exists where the Achilles tendon inserts into the heel bone. This growth plate is primarily comprised of cartilage. Every time the calf contracts, it pulls on the Achilles tendon which in turn pulls on the heel's growth plate. When this tension is too forceful or repetitive, irritation to the growth plate may occur resulting in pain and sometimes an increased bony prominence at the back of the heel. This condition is called Severs disease. Severs disease is typically seen in children or adolescents during periods of rapid growth. This is because muscles and tendons become tighter as bones become longer. As a result, more tension is placed on the heel's growth plate.

Causes

During the growth spurt of early puberty, the heel bone (also called the calcaneus) sometimes grows faster than the leg muscles and tendons. This can cause the muscles and tendons to become very tight and overstretched, making the heel less flexible and putting pressure on the growth plate. The Achilles tendon (also called the heel cord) is the strongest tendon that attaches to the growth plate in the heel. Over time, repeated stress (force or pressure) on the already tight Achilles tendon damages the growth plate, causing the swelling, tenderness, and pain of Sever's disease. Such stress commonly results from physical activities and sports that involve running and jumping, especially those that take place on hard surfaces, such as track, basketball, soccer, and gymnastics.

Symptoms

Pain in the lower calf and heel area which may be worse when applying pressure either side. Pain worse on activity especially those involving running or jumping. In severe cases this may cause the child to limp when walking. One or both heels affected.

Diagnosis

Sever condition is diagnosed by detecting the characteristic symptoms and signs above in the older children, particularly boys between 8 and 15 years of age. Sometimes X-ray testing can be helpful as it can occasionally demonstrate irregularity of the calcaneus bone at the point where the Achilles tendon attaches.

Non Surgical Treatment

The aim of treatment is to reduce the pain and inflammation when gently stretch the muscles. There is likely to be no magic instant cure and the young athlete may have to be patient while they grow. Rest and apply ice or cold therapy to the heel. Do not apply ice directly to the skin but wrap in a wet tea towel to avoid ice burns. Rest from activities which cause pain. If running and playing football makes it worse then reduce or stop this activity and try cycling or swimming to maintain fitness. A temporary measure is to insert a heel pad or heel raise into the shoes. This has the effect of raising the heel and shortening the calf muscles and so taking the strain off the back of the heel. However long term use of a heal raise may shorten the calf muscles when they need stretching. Stretch the calf muscles regularly. Stretching should be done pain free and very gently with this injury. See a sports injury professional who can advise on treatment and rehabilitation.

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