Diagnosing Calcaneal Apophysitis

Overview

Sever's disease, also known as calcaneal apophysitis, is a medical condition that causes heel pain in one or both feet of children during the period when their feet are growing. Sever's disease occurs most commonly in boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 14 years of age. Sever's disease occurs when the part of the child's heel known as the growth plate, or the calcaneal epiphysis, an area attached to the Achilles tendon, suffers an injury or when the muscles and tendons of the growing foot do not keep pace with bone growth. The result is constant pain experienced at the back of the heel and the inability to put any weight on the heel, forcing the child to bear weight on their toes while walking. A toe gait develops in which the child must change the way they walk to avoid placing weight on the painful heel, a position that can lead to other developmental problems.

Causes

The heel bone grows faster than the ligaments in the leg. As a result, muscles and tendons can become very tight and overstretched in children who are going through growth spurts. The heel is especially susceptible to injury since the foot is one of the first parts of the body to grow to full size and the heel area is not very flexible. Sever?s disease occurs as a result of repetitive stress on the Achilles tendon. Over time, this constant pressure on the already tight heel cord can damage the growth plate, causing pain and inflammation. Such stress and pressure can result from sports that involve running and jumping on hard surfaces (track, basketball and gymnastics). Standing too long, which puts constant pressure on the heel. Poor-fitting shoes that don?t provide enough support or padding for the feet. Overuse or exercising too much can also cause Sever?s disease.

Symptoms

Symptoms include Heel Pain. Pain at the back of the heels when walking or running. Possibly a lump at the back of the heel, although this might be minimal. Pain and tenderness at the back of the heels, especially if you press on it, or give it a squeeze from the sides. Tight calf muscles resulting in reduced ankle range of motion.

Diagnosis

A physical exam of the heel will show tenderness over the back of the heel but not in the Achilles tendon or plantar fascia. There may be tightness in the calf muscle, which contributes to tension on the heel. The tendons in the heel get stretched more in patients with flat feet. There is greater impact force on the heels of athletes with a high-arched, rigid foot.

Non Surgical Treatment

Treatment includes modifying activities and resting to reduce pain and inflammation and take pressure off the growth center. Ice can also be very helpful in relieving symptoms, as well as anti-inflammatory medication. A physical therapy program should be initiated to stretch tight calf muscles and strengthen the ankle muscles to relieve tension on the growth center. Shoes with padded heel surfaces and good arch support can decrease pain. Cleats may need to be avoided for some time to help reduce symptoms. The doctor may also recommend gel heel cups or supportive shoe inserts.

Surgical Treatment

The surgeon may select one or more of the following options to treat calcaneal apophysitis. Reduce activity. The child needs to reduce or stop any activity that causes pain. Support the heel. Temporary shoe inserts or custom orthotic devices may provide support for the heel. Medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, help reduce the pain and inflammation. Physical therapy. Stretching or physical therapy modalities are sometimes used to promote healing of the inflamed issue. Immobilization. In some severe cases of pediatric heel pain, a cast may be used to promote healing while keeping the foot and ankle totally immobile. Often heel pain in children returns after it has been treated because the heel bone is still growing. Recurrence of heel pain may be a sign of calcaneal apophysitis, or it may indicate a different problem. If your child has a repeat bout of heel pain, be sure to make an appointment with your foot and ankle surgeon.
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