What Are The Primary Causes Of Calcaneal Apophysitis?

Overview

Pain in the heel of a child's foot, typically brought on by some form of injury or trauma, is sometimes Sever's Disease. The disease often mimics Achilles tendonitis, an inflammation of the tendon attached to the back of the heel. A tight Achilles tendon may contribute to Sever's Disease by pulling excessively on the growth plate of the heel bone. This condition is most common in younger children and is frequently seen in the active soccer, football or baseball player. Sport shoes with cleats are also known to aggravate the condition. Treatment includes calf muscle stretching exercises, heel cushions in the shoes, and/or anti-inflammatory medications. Consult your physician before taking any medications.

Causes

The large calf muscles attach to the heel via a large tendon called the Achilles tendon (See image below). The function of this tendon is to transmit forces produced by the calf muscles to the heel bone. In children, the portion of the heel bone into which the Achilles tendon inserts is separated from the bulk of the heel bone by a growth plate. This growth plate enables bone growth to occur. However, it also represents a site of weakness in the bone. Forcible and repeated contraction of the calf muscles can injure the growth plate. This commonly occurs during a period of rapid growth where the muscles and tendons become tighter as the bones grow. This leads to increased pulling of the calf muscles and Achilles tendon on the heel bone and growth plate.

Symptoms

Symptoms of Sever?s disease, mostly pain at the back of heel, usually occur during and after sporting activity, and usually disappear with rest. In some cases, children may find it difficult to place pressure on their heels, and begin walking on their toes to gain relief. For some children, the heel pain will persist until the next morning, causing some stiffness or hobbling on first arising. Some children may experience mild swelling at the back of the heel.

Diagnosis

All medical diagnosis should be made by taking a full history, examining the patient then performing investigations. The problem usually occurs in boys who are going through or have just gone through a growth spurt; one or both heels may be affected. Initially the pain may be intermittent occurring only during or after exercise. As the problem gets worse, pain may be present most of the time. There may be swelling over the back of the heel and this area is painful if touched or knocked. On examination the patient often has flat feet, very tight legs muscles especially the gastrocnemius.

Non Surgical Treatment

The doctor might recommend that a child with Sever's disease perform foot and leg exercises to stretch and strengthen the leg muscles and tendons, elevate and apply ice (wrapped in a towel, not applied directly to the skin) to the injured heel for 20 minutes two or three times per day, even on days when the pain is not that bad, to help reduce swelling, use an elastic wrap or compression stocking that is designed to help decrease pain and swelling, take an over-the-counter medicine to reduce pain and swelling, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). Children should not be given aspirin for pain due to the risk of a very serious illness called Reye syndrome. In very severe cases, the doctor might recommend that the child wear a cast for anywhere from 2 to 12 weeks to immobilize the foot so that it can heal.

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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