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What Causes Calcaneal Apophysitis?

Overview

Sever's disease, or calcaneal apophysitis, is a common cause of heel pain in patients whose bones are still growing; however, it is not really a disease. The pain is caused by stress at the point where the Achilles tendon meets tissue called the plantar fascia on the growth plate (apophysis) of the heel bone (calcaneus). Sever's affects boys more often than girls. Boys are most often affected at age 12, and girls at age 9, though Sever's is typically seen in children and adolescents between the ages of 7 and 15.

Causes

During the growth spurt of early puberty, the heel bone (also called the calcaneus) sometimes grows faster than the leg muscles and tendons. This can cause the muscles and tendons to become very tight and overstretched, making the heel less flexible and putting pressure on the growth plate. The Achilles tendon (also called the heel cord) is the strongest tendon that attaches to the growth plate in the heel. Over time, repeated stress (force or pressure) on the already tight Achilles tendon damages the growth plate, causing the swelling, tenderness, and pain of Sever's disease. Such stress commonly results from physical activities and sports that involve running and jumping, especially those that take place on hard surfaces, such as track, basketball, soccer, and gymnastics.

Symptoms

The most prominent symptom of Sever's disease is heel pain which is usually aggravated by physical activity such as walking, running or jumping. The pain is localized to the posterior and plantar side of the heel over the calcaneal apophysis. Sometimes, the pain may be so severe that it may cause limping and interfere with physical performance in sports. External appearance of the heel is almost always normal, and signs of local disease such as edema, erythema (redness) is absent. The main diagnostic tool is pain on medial- lateral compression of the calcaneus in the area of growth plate, so called squeeze test. Foot radiographs are usually normal. Therefore the diagnosis of Sever's disease is primarily clinical.

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

Sever?s disease treatment should be based on eliminating pain and restoring normal foot and leg biomechanics. As with most soft tissue injuries the initial treatment is Rest, Ice, and Protect. In the early phase you?ll most likely be unable to walk pain-free. Our first aim is to provide you with some active rest from pain-provoking activities. "No Pain. No Gain." does not apply in Sever's disease. If it hurts your child is doing too much exercise. Your child should reduce or cease any activity that causes heel pain. Ice is a simple and effective modality to reduce your pain and swelling. Please apply for 20-30 minutes each 2 to 4 hours during the initial phase or when you notice that your injury is warm or hot. Most children can tolerate paracetamol as a pain reducing medication. Check with your doctor. To support and protect your heels, you may need to be wear shock absorbing heel cups or a soft orthotic. Kinesio foot taping may help to provide pain relief. Your physiotherapist will guide you and utilise a range of pain relieving techniques including joint mobilisations for stiff ankle or subtalar joints, massage or electrotherapy to assist you during this pain-full phase.

Recovery

Receiving the initial diagnosis of Sever?s disease can be scary, and while the situation is painful, there is good news. If treated properly and quickly, Sever?s disease is temporary and will have no long-term effects on the athlete.
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