What Causes Calcaneal Apophysitis?

Overview

During a growth spurt, your child?s heel bone grows faster than the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in her leg. In fact, the heel is one of your child?s first body parts to reach full adult size. When the muscles and tendons can?t grow fast enough to keep up, they are stretched too tight. If your child is very active, especially if she plays a sport that involves a lot of running and jumping on hard surfaces (such as soccer, basketball, or gymnastics), it can put extra strain on her already overstretched tendons. This leads to swelling and pain at the point where the tendons attach to the growing part of her heel.

Causes

Sever’s disease usually develops as a result of overuse and is common in active children between the ages of 8 to 12. Activities that involve running or jumping can cause undue stress on the calcaneal apophysis. This in turn leads to the development of microscopic damage to the calcaneal apophysis resulting in inflammation and pain. Poor flexibility of the calf muscles and of the Achilles tendon, overpronation (feet rolled in) and inappropriate footwear are some of the other factors that can cause Sever’s disease.

Symptoms

Some of the most common signs and symptoms associated with Sever?s disease include. Heel pain or tenderness in one or both heels, usually at the back of the heel. Pain or discomfort upon waking, or when the heel is squeezed. Heel pain that is worse during or following activity. Limping. Heel swelling or redness. Tight calf muscles. Decreased ankle range of motion.

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 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.