When recurring heel pain occurs in children, it is usually due to Sever’s Disease, while adult heel pain is usually due to heel spurs, plantar fasciitis, or retrocalcaneal bursitis (Haglund’s Deformity). Calcaneus is the anatomical name of the heel bone. Sever’s Disease or Calcaneal Apophysitis is an inflammation of the growth plate located at the posterior aspect (back) of the heel.
The spontaneous development of pain in children generally indicates some form of injury to the growth plate of a growing bone. This can occur without a specific memorable event. When pain occurs in the heel of a child the most likely cause is due to injury of the growth plate in the heel bone. This is called Sever’s disease. A condition that may mimic Seiver’s disease is Achilles tendonitis. Achilles tendonitis is inflammation of the tendon attached to the back of the heel. A tight Achilles tendon may contribute to Sever’s disease by pulling excessively on the growth plate of the heel bone. It is frequently seen in the active soccer, football or baseball player. Sport shoes with cleats seem to aggravate the condition. It is believed that the condition is due to an underlying mechanical problem with the way the foot functions.
Patients with Severs disease typically experience pain that develops gradually in the back of the heel or Achilles region. In less severe cases, patients may only experience an ache or stiffness in the heel that increases with rest (especially at night or first thing in the morning). This typically occurs following activities which require strong or repetitive contraction of the calf muscles, such as running (especially uphill) or during sports involving running, jumping or hopping. The pain associated with this condition may also warm up with activity in the initial stages of the condition. As the condition progresses, patients may experience symptoms that increase during activity and affect performance. Pain may also increase when performing a calf stretch or heel raise (i.e. rising up onto tip toes). In severe cases, patients may walk with a limp, have difficulty putting their heel down, or be unable to weight bear on the affected leg. Pain may also increase on firmly touching the affected region and occasionally a bony lump may be palpable or visible at the back of the heel. This condition typically presents gradually overtime and can affect either one or both lower limbs.
Physical examination varies depending on the severity and length of involvement. Bilateral involvement is present in approximately 60% of cases. Most patients experience pain with deep palpation at the Achilles insertion and pain when performing active toe raises. Forced dorsiflexion of the ankle also proves uncomfortable and is relieved with passive equinus positioning. Swelling may be present but usually is mild. In long-standing cases, the child may have calcaneal enlargement.
Non Surgical Treatment
The primary method of treating Sever?s disease is taking time off from sports and other physical activities to alleviate the pressure on the heel bone. During the healing period, your child?s doctor may also recommend physical therapy or any type of exercise that involves stretching and strengthen leg muscles and tendons. Wrapping ice in a towel and placing it under the child?s heel will also help to alleviate and reduce pain and swelling.
It is important to undertake correct warm ups and warm downs before and after exercise. This should include a stretching routine. It may be necessary to undertake additional stretching outside of sport, especially during stages of growth. Only playing one sport should be avoided. You should not allow your child to play through pain.