Severs Disease Physical Therapy

Overview

Pain in the heel of a child's foot, typically brought on by some form of injury or trauma, is sometimes Sever's Disease. The disease often mimics Achilles tendonitis, an 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. This condition is most common in younger children and is frequently seen in the active soccer, football or baseball player. Sport shoes with cleats are also known to aggravate the condition. Treatment includes calf muscle stretching exercises, heel cushions in the shoes, and/or anti-inflammatory medications. Consult your physician before taking any medications.

Causes

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.

Symptoms

The main symptom of sever's disease is pain and tenderness at the back of the heel which is made worse with physical activity. Tenderness will be felt especially if you press in or give the back of the heel a squeeze from the sides. There may be a lump over the painful area. Another sign is tight calf muscles resulting with reduced range of motion at the ankle. Pain may go away after a period of rest from sporting activities only to return when the young person goes back to training.

Diagnosis

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

In general, the goals for treatment include reducing the localized areas of inflammation. We recommend that patients utilize Ibuprofen every six to eight hours as needed. Stretching exercises on a daily basis, as well as prior to activity is thought to be helpful as well. Following work-outs and increased activities, it may be helpful to apply ice over affected areas. Heel cups are also available to provide cushion in shoes. In addition, for more severe symptoms, it may be helpful to refrain from sports and/or immobilize the area for a few weeks to help reduce the inflammation.

Exercise

Stretching exercises can help. It is important that your child performs exercises to stretch the hamstring and calf muscles, and the tendons on the back of the leg. The child should do these stretches 2 or 3 times a day. Each stretch should be held for about 20 seconds. Both legs should be stretched, even if the pain is only in 1 heel. Your child also needs to do exercises to strengthen the muscles on the front of the shin. To do this, your child should sit on the floor, keeping his or her hurt leg straight. One end of a bungee cord or piece of rubber tubing is hooked around a table leg. The other end is hitched around the child's toes. The child then scoots back just far enough to stretch the cord. Next, the child slowly bends the foot toward his or her body. When the child cannot bend the foot any closer, he or she slowly points the foot in the opposite direction (toward the table). This exercise (15 repetitions of "foot curling") should be done about 3 times. The child should do this exercise routine a few times daily.

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