What Causes Calcaneal Apophysitis?

Overview

Also known as calcaneal apophysitis, Severs? disease is a condition that primarily affects children between the ages of 7 and 15. The condition is typified by pain in the heel which can affect movement, and as a foot condition, comes under the care of podiatrists. Podiatrists are specially trained professionals who specialise in any and all ailments of the foot and ankle. Podiatrists dealing with Severs? disease are typically podopaediatricians, individuals who have received training in the delivery of childhood care.

Causes

Growth plates, also called epiphyseal plates, occur at the end of long bones in children who are still growing. These plates are at either end of growing bones, and are the place where cartilage turns into bone. As children grow, these plates eventually become bone (a process called ossification). During a growth spurt, the bone in the heel may outpace the growth of the muscles and tendons that are attached to the heel, such as the Achilles tendon. During weight bearing, the muscles and tendons begin to tighten, which in turn puts stress on the growth plate in the heel. The heel is not very flexible, and the constant pressure on it begins to cause the symptoms of Sever?s disease. Sever?s disease is common, and it does not predispose a child to develop any other diseases or conditions in the leg, foot, or heel. It typically resolves on its own.

Symptoms

Symptoms include heel pain related to sports activities and worsen after those sport and exercise activities. However, some children who are not in a sport may also get this if they are physically active. If you notice that your child is ?walking on their toes? this is a sign of possible heel pain. The pain is usually on the back of the heel, the sides of the heel, the bottom of the heel, or a combination of all of these. We typically don't see swelling with this, however if pressure is applied to the sides of the heel pain may be reported. Sometimes the pain is so bad the child will have to limp, or take a break from sports activity either for a few days or few months.

Diagnosis

Children or adolescents who are experiencing pain and discomfort in their feet should be evaluated by a physician. In some cases, no imaging tests are needed to diagnose Sever?s disease. A podiatrist or other healthcare professional may choose to order an x-ray or imaging study, however, to ensure that there is no other cause for the pain, such as a fracture. Sever?s disease will not show any findings on an x-ray because it affects cartilage.

Non Surgical Treatment

The aims are to reduce trauma to the heel, allow rest/recovery and prevent recurrence. Most cases are successfully treated using physiotherapy and exercises, eg to stretch the gastrocnemius-soleus complex, to mobilise the ankle mortise, subtalar joint and medial forefoot. Soft orthotics or heel cups. Advice on suitable athletic footwear. Other modes of treatment are in severe cases, temporarily limiting activity such as running and jumping. Ice and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which can reduce pain. In very severe cases, a short period of immobilisation (eg 2-3 weeks in a case in mild equinus position) has been suggested.

Exercise

For children with Sever's disease, it is important to habitually perform exercises to stretch the hamstrings, calf muscles, and the tendons on the back of the leg. Stretching should be performed 2-3 times a day. Each stretch should be performed for 20 seconds, and both legs should be stretched, even if the pain is only in one heel. Heel cups or an inner shoe heel lifts are often recommended for patient suffering from Sever's disease. Wearing running shoes with built in heel cups can also decrease the symptoms because they can help soften the impact on the heel when walking, running, or standing.

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