Living With 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

Your child?s heel bone keeps forming new bone until the late teens. The new bone is weak and can be damaged by running or pounding on hard surfaces, like during a basketball game. The new bone may also be irritated by shoes with poor padding in the heels or poor arch supports.

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

In general, management is along the normal lines for sports injuries. Simply telling an individual to give up his or her chosen sport is not satisfactory (this may be a very talented young footballer who hopes to become a professional). Explain to the child and parent that this is an overuse injury, common in the growing child. It has a good prognosis but it is necessary to ease back on training for a while to let it recover. Offer to talk to the coach. If the parent and coach are one and the same, beware that the child is being 'pushed' too hard. During abstinence from normal training, cardiovascular fitness can be maintained by non-weight-bearing exercise such as swimming or cycling.

Recovery

If the child has a pronated foot, a flat or high arch, or another condition that increases the risk of Sever's disease, the doctor might recommend special shoe inserts, called orthotic devices, such as heel pads that cushion the heel as it strikes the ground, heel lifts that reduce strain on the Achilles tendon by raising the heel, arch supports that hold the heel in an ideal position. If a child is overweight or obese, the doctor will probably also recommend weight loss to decrease pressure on the heel. The risk of recurrence goes away on its own when foot growth is complete and the growth plate has fused to the rest of the heel bone, usually around age 15.

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