Sever’s Disease – Heel Pain From Overuse Takes The Fun Out Of Children’s Games

Sever’s Disease – Nature’s way of telling often over-scheduled, over-committed active youngsters to slow down and take it easy…or easier, anyway.


According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nearly 30 million children and adolescents participate in youth sports in the United States. Unfortunately, each year more than 3.5 million kids under age 14 receive medical treatment for sports injuries.


The doctors at Advanced Foot & Ankle Medical Center see far too many active children suffering from an overuse foot injury called Sever’s Disease (aka, “calcaneal apophysitis”) – the most common cause of heel pain in athletes age five to 11 years.


Basketball, soccer, track and other running and jumping activities – especially with too little rest between games and competitions – can strain the developing child’s foot and cause severe heel pain. The high-impact, sprinting, leaping and landing of gymnastics is particularly hard on a growing child’s heel bones.


Sever’s Disease describes a condition in which the heel bone becomes painfully inflamed. The ailment is one of the most common causes of heel pain even in non-athletic children.


What’s happening? The majority of the human heel bone is present at birth. Around eight years of age, a secondary growth center develops. This new piece of bone is crescent shaped and is connected to the remainder of the heel bone by a layer of cartilage called the growth plate.


Sever’s Disease usually occurs during the adolescent growth spurt, the approximately two-year period in early puberty when kids grow most rapidly. This growth surge can begin anytime between the ages of 8 to 13 for girls and 10 to 15 for boys. Sever’s Disease is self-limiting because the growth plate will eventually turn into bone around 14 years of age.


Heel strikes on ground or floor occurring as the natural result of running, jumping and otherwise just being active can lead to repetitive stress on the vulnerable growth plate. This results in inflammation (swelling) in the plate. The most common symptom of Sever’s Disease involves pain or tenderness in one or both heels. This pain usually occurs at the back of the heel, but can also extend to the sides and bottom of the heel.


What to do about Sever’s?


Most heel pain can be managed conservatively with proper and timely diagnosis. Ice is a simple and effective modality to reduce pain and swelling. Stretching, analgesic medications and heel lifts or cushions also help.


Most importantly, increasing numbers of chronic overuse injuries in young athletes may be related to limited recovery time from longer competitive seasons and year-round training. “No Pain, No Gain” does not apply to youngsters suffering from Sever’s Disease.


The primary treatment for Sever’s is to REST the foot (i.e., stop the sport) until the pain goes away. If it hurts, a child is doing too much exercise. He or she should reduce or cease any activity that causes heel pain. Once the pain is gone, the child may return to normal activities.


In other words, young people need to understand the wisdom that exists within their own bodies. They’re only young once, so they need to learn not to overdo it and hurt themselves when they’re supposed to be having fun. Athletes are “players,” not workers, so they should be sure to avoid Sever’s Disease by always keeping the “play” in their sports.


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