What Exactly Is Severs Disease?


Sever?s is described as a traction apophysitis. In childhood our bones are made of a cartilage mould of the bone, which over time as we grow slowly turns into a full bone. The reason for this is that it is easier to grow cartilage to the length required, and then back fill with bone later than it is to actually grow new bone. Most bones have a least two growth of bone centres, one by the joint and one making the main body of the bone. In the growing heel bone (calcaneus) the posterior part has a separate growth area where the Achilles tendon attaches. When playing lots of sport, especially football, rugby and hockey, the two areas of bone can be pulled apart, producing pain. Recent evidence has also suggested that the appearance of this condition on MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), appears to indicate that Sever?s is a type of stress fracture. Whether that fatigue stress is from compression or tension remains in debate, and is probably a combination of both.


Sever disease is more common in children who do regular sports or exercise that puts pressure on the heels. Activities such as running and jumping can put stress on the tight muscles and tendons.


The most obvious sign of Sever’s disease is pain or tenderness in one or both heels, usually at the back. The pain also might extend to the sides and bottom of the heel, ending near the arch of the foot. A child also may have these related problems, swelling and redness in the heel, difficulty walking, discomfort or stiffness in the feet upon awaking, discomfort when the heel is squeezed on both sides, an unusual walk, such as walking with a limp or on tiptoes to avoid putting pressure on the heel. Symptoms are usually worse during or after activity and get better with rest.


A doctor or other health professional such as a physiotherapist can diagnose Sever?s disease by asking the young person to describe their symptoms and by conducting a physical examination. In some instances, an x-ray may be necessary to rule out other causes of heel pain, such as heel fractures. Sever?s disease does not show on an x-ray because the damage is in the cartilage.

Non Surgical Treatment

The practitioner should inform the patient and the patient?s parents that this is not a dangerous disorder and that it will resolve spontaneously as the patient matures (16-18 years old). Treatment depends on the severity of the child?s symptoms. The condition is self-limiting, thus the patient?s activity level should be limited only by pain. Treatment is quite varied. Relative Rest/ Modified rest or cessation of sports. Cryotherapy. Stretching Triceps Surae and strengthen extensors. Nighttime dorsiflexion splints (often used for plantar fasciitis, relieve the symptoms and help to maintain flexibility). Plantar fascial stretching. Gentle mobilizations to the subtalar joint and forefoot area. Heel lifts, Orthoses (all types, heel cups, heel foam), padding for shock absorption or strapping of heel to decrease impact shock. Electrical stimulation in the form of Russian stimulation sine wave modulated at 2500 Hz with a 12 second on time and an 8 second off time with a 3 second ramp. Advise to wear supportive shoes. Ultrasound, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Casting (2-4 weeks) or Crutches (sever cases). Corticosteroid injections are not recommended. Ketoprofen Gel as an addition to treatment. Symptoms usually resolve in a few weeks to 2 months after therapy is initiated. In order to prevent calcaneal apophysitis when returning to sports (after successful treatment and full recovery), icing and stretching after activity are most indicated. Respectable opinion and poorly conducted retrospective case series make up the majority of evidence on this condition. The level of evidence for most of what we purport to know about Sever?s disease is at such a level that prospective, well-designed studies are a necessity to allow any confidence in describing this condition and its treatment.


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. Although Sever’s disease generally heals quickly, it can recur if long-term measures are not taken to protect the heel during a child’s growing years. One of the most important is to make sure that kids wear proper shoes. Good quality, well-fitting shoes with shock-absorbent (padded) soles help to reduce pressure on the heel. The doctor may also recommend shoes with open backs, such as sandals or clogs, that do not rub on the back of the heel. Shoes that are heavy or have high heels should be avoided. Other preventive measures include continued stretching exercises and icing of the affected heel after activity.


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