Diagnosing Calcaneal Apophysitis

Overview

It is important to know that foot pain is not only limited to grown-ups. Often active, healthy children will complain of pain in one or both heels shortly after walking, running, engaging or playing sports. The pain is usually felt at the back of, or under the heel. The cause of heel pain in children is usually a condition called calcaneal apophysitis or Sever’s Disease, normally reported by 8 to 14 year olds.

Causes

Sever?s disease is directly related to overuse of the bone and tendons in the heel. This can come from playing sports or anything that involves a lot of heel movement. It can be associated with starting a new sport, or the start of a new season. Children who are going through adolescence are also at risk of getting it because the heel bone grows quicker than the leg. Too much weight bearing on the heel can also cause it, as can excessive traction since the bones and tendons are still developing. It occurs more commonly in children who over-pronate, and involves both heels in more than half of patients.

Symptoms

This is a condition that affects the cartilage growth plate and the separate island of growing bone on the back of the heel bone. This growth plate is called the physeal plate. The island of growing bone is called the apophysis. It has the insertion attachment of the Achilles tendon, and the attachment of the plantar fascia. This island of bone is under traction from both of these soft tissue tendon and tendon-like attachments.

Diagnosis

Sever condition is diagnosed by detecting the characteristic symptoms and signs above in the older children, particularly boys between 8 and 15 years of age. Sometimes X-ray testing can be helpful as it can occasionally demonstrate irregularity of the calcaneus bone at the point where the Achilles tendon attaches.

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.

Recovery

This condition is self limiting – it will go away when the two parts of bony growth join together – this is natural. Unfortunately, Sever’s disease can be very painful and limit sport activity of the child while waiting for it to go away, so treatment is often advised to help relieve it. In a few cases of Sever’s disease, the treatment is not successful and these children will be restricted in their activity levels until the two growth areas join – usually around the age of 16 years. There are no known long term complications associated with Sever’s disease.

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