Can I Deal With Calcaneal Apophysitis From Home?

Overview

Sever's disease is the most common cause of heel pain in the growing child. It is due to overuse and repetitive stress of the Achilles tendon where it attaches to the heel bone.

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

Pain in the bottom surface and at the back of the heel. Extreme pain when the child places their heel on the ground. The pain is aggravated when running or jumping on hard surfaces. The pain is reduced when the child walks or runs on their toes.

Diagnosis

Children or adolescents who are experiencing pain and discomfort in their feet should be evaluated by a physician. In some cases, no imaging tests are needed to diagnose Sever?s disease. A podiatrist or other healthcare professional may choose to order an x-ray or imaging study, however, to ensure that there is no other cause for the pain, such as a fracture. Sever?s disease will not show any findings on an x-ray because it affects cartilage.

Non Surgical Treatment

The treatment of Sever's disease depends upon the severity of symptoms experienced by the patient. Care is initiated with a simple program of stretching and heel elevation to weaken the force applied to the calcaneus by the Achilles tendon. If stretches and heel elevation are unsuccessful in controlling the symptoms of Sever's disease, children should be removed from sports and placed on restricted activities. Mild Symptoms. Wear a 3/8 heel lift at all times (not just during physical activity). It is important to use a firm lift and not a soft heel pad. Calf stretches 6/day for 60 seconds each. Calf stretches are best accomplished by standing with the toes on the edge of a stretching block. Moderate Symptoms. Follow the directions for minor symptoms and decrease activity including elimination of any athletic activity. In addition to stretching by day, a night stretching splint can be worn while sleeping. Severe Symptoms. Follow the directions for mild and moderate symptoms. Children should be removed from sports activities such as football, basketball, soccer or gym class. A below knee walking cast with a heel lift or in severe cases, non-weight bearing fiberglass cast, may be indicated for 4-6 weeks. The cast should be applied in a mildly plantar flexed position. Cam Walkers should not be used for Sever's Disease unless they have a built in heel lift.

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.

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