Addressing Calcaneal Apophysitis

Overview

It is thought to be a traction injury, where the Achilles tendon and Plantar fascia pull in opposite directions. Sever?s occurs in children aged 8 to 16 years old. In children, the heel bone is made up of 2 bones, with a growth plate of cartilage in between the sections, holding these 2 bones together. As the cartilage expands, the edges of it eventually turn to bone, and finally the gap closes. This usually occurs within the first 13-15 years of life. However, because these bones are connected by cartilage they are weaker than normal bones. This is why they are very vulnerable to injury.

Causes

Heel pain is very common in children due to the fact they are cnstantly growing. In most children, the heel bone (the calcaneus) is not fully developed until the age of 14 or older. Until then, new bone is forming at the growth plate of the foot (the apophysis, located at the back of the heel), an area which is softer than others due to its role in accommodating the growth. Repetitive stress on the growth plate due to walking, running and sports causes inflammation in the heel area. Because the heel's growth plate is sensitive, repeated running and pounding on hard surfaces can result in pediatric heel pain. Children and adolescents who take part in a lot of sport are especially vulnerable. Over-pronation (fallen arches and rolling inwards of the feet) will increase the impact on the growth plate and is therefore a significant cause and a major contributing factor to heel pain in children.

Symptoms

The symptoms include pain, tenderness, swelling or redness in the heel, and they might have difficulty walking or putting pressure on the heel. If you notice that your child suddenly starts walking around on their toes because their heels hurt, that?s a dead giveaway. Kids who play sports might also complain of foot pain after a game or practice. As they grow, the muscles and tendons will catch up and eventually the pressure will subside along with the pain. But in the meantime, it can become very uncomfortable.

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. The doctor may order an x-ray because x-rays can confirm how mature the growth center is and if there are other sources of heel pain, such as a stress fracture or bone cyst. However, x-rays are not necessary to diagnose Sever?s disease, and it is not possible to make the diagnosis based on the x-ray alone.

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.

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