Severs Disease The Facts

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Overview

Sever's disease is commonly found in young athletes during early puberty. It is a form of aphophysitis, an inflammatory condition of the growth plate that sits below the insertion of a tendon. In the case of Sever's, the Achilles tendon places tension on the growth plate of the calcaneus (or heel bone). Sever's disease is common in sports like soccer, volleyball, football, basketball and gymnastics, as jumping and running typically exacerbate the condition. Symptoms of Sever's are heel pain that may worsen with activity, and one may also notice a tiptoe gait as the athlete tries to take weight off the heel.

Causes

A big tendon called the Achilles tendon joins the calf muscle at the back of the leg to the heel. Sever?s disease is thought to occur because of a mismatch in growth of the calf bones to the calf muscle and Achilles tendon. If the bones grow faster than the muscles, the Achilles tendon that attaches the muscle to the heel gets tight. At the same time, until the cartilage of the calcaneum is ossified (turned into bone), it is a potential weak spot. The tight calf muscle and Achilles tendon cause a traction injury on this weak spot, resulting in inflammation and pain. Sever?s disease most commonly affects boys aged ten to 12 years and girls aged nine to 11 years, when growth spurts are beginning. Sever?s disease heals itself with time, so it is known as self-limiting. There is no evidence to suggest that Sever?s disease causes any long term problems or complications.

Symptoms

Typically, the sports injury occurs where the achilles tendon attaches to the bone. The epiphyseal growth plate is located at the end of a developing bone where cartilage turns into bone cells. As the growth center expands and unites, this area may become inflamed, causing severe pain when both sides of the heel are compressed. There is typically no swelling and no warmth, so it?s not always an easy condition to spot. The child usually has trouble walking, stiffness upon waking, and pain with activity that subsides during periods of rest.

Diagnosis

Sever?s disease can be diagnosed based on your history and symptoms. Clinically, your physiotherapist will perform a "squeeze test" and some other tests to confirm the diagnosis. Some children suffer Sever?s disease even though they do less exercise than other. This indicates that it is not just training volume that is at play. Foot and leg biomechanics are a predisposing factor. The main factors thought to predispose a child to Sever?s disease include a decrease in ankle dorsiflexion, abnormal hind foot motion eg overpronation or supination, tight calf muscles, excessive weight-bearing activities eg running.

Non Surgical Treatment

Treatment of Sever's disease will depend upon the severity of the condition. Parents can assist with the treatment of Sever's disease by making sure their children reduce physical activity until some of the pain subsides. Losing weight can also help reduce pressure on the heel. It is important to consult a doctor if the pain persists. A physician may recommend flexibility exercises, custom shoe inserts, or anti-inflammatory medication. In some cases, a splint or cast may be necessary to immobilize the foot and give it a chance to heal. Most cases of Sever's disease will resolve by the age of 16, when growing subsides. Fortunately, there are no known long-term complications associated with the disease.

Prevention

To prevent recurrence, patients, parents, coaches, and trainers should be instructed regarding a good preexercise stretching program for the child. Early in the season, encouragement should be given for a preseason conditioning and stretching program. Coaches and trainers should be educated about recognition of the clinical symptoms so they are able to initiate early protective measures and seek medical referral when necessary.
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