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.
When a baby is born, most of the bones are still cartilage with only some starting to develop into bone. When the heel (calcaneus) starts to develop bone, there is generally one large area of development that starts in the center of the cartilage heel. This area of bone spreads to 'fill up' the cartilage. Another area of bone development (ossification) occurs at the back of the heel bone. These two areas of developing bone will have an area of cartilage between them, this is how the bone grows in size. At around age 16, when growth is nearly complete, these two bony areas fuse together. Sever's disease or calcaneal apophysitis is usually considered to be due to damage or a disturbance in this area of growth.
Most children with Sever's complain of pain in the heel that occurs during or after activity (typically running or jumping) and is usually relieved by rest. The pain may be worse when wearing cleats. Sixty percent of children's with Sever's report experiencing pain in both heels.
It is not difficult for a doctor to diagnose Sever's disease in a youngster or teenager. A personal history and a physical examination are usually all it takes to determine the cause of heel pain.
Non Surgical Treatment
Once diagnosed, there is a list of treatment options available to begin the recovery process. Unfortunately due to the nature of the condition it will often be a reoccurring condition until closure of the growth plates of the heel and elongation of the soft tissue structures. However with appropriate education, correct management of symptoms and prevention strategies, Severs disease can be well managed by the individual and their parents.
One of the most important things to know about Sever's disease is that, with proper care, the condition usually goes away within 2 weeks to 2 months and does not cause any problems later in life. The sooner Sever's disease is addressed, the quicker recovery is. Most kids can return to physical activity without any trouble once the pain and other symptoms go away.