The calcaneal apophysis is a growth center where the Achilles tendon and the plantar fascia attach to the heel. It first appears in children aged 7 to 8 years. By ages 12 to 14 years the growth center matures and fuses to the heel bone. Injuries can occur from excessive tension on the Achilles tendon and the plantar fascia, or from direct impact on the heel. Excessive stress on this growth center can cause irritation of the heel, also called Sever?s disease.
The heel bone sometimes grows faster than the leg muscles (including the calf muscles) and tendons (including the Achilles tendon) during the early puberty growth spurt. The different growth rate in these structures can cause lower leg muscles and tendons to become overstretched and tight, which makes the heel less flexible and puts excessive pressure on the heel growth plate. The Achilles tendon, the strongest tendon in the body, attaches to the heel growth plate, and repetitive stress on this structure, especially if it?s already tight, can damage the growth plate, leading to tenderness, swelling, and pain. Activities that involve running or jumping, such as soccer, gymnastics, track, and basketball, can place significant stress on a tight Achilles tendon and contribute to the onset of Sever?s disease. Ill-fitting shoes can also contribute to this health problem by failing to provide the right kind of support or by rubbing against the back of heel. The following factors may increase the likelihood of Sever?s disease in kids or young teens. Wearing footwear that is too narrow in the toe box. Leg length inequality. Obesity or carrying excess bodyweight. Excessive foot and ankle pronation.
Pain is usually related to activity levels. In most cases the posterior aspect of the calcaneus will be tender. Checking both the medial and lateral aspects of the posterior portion of the growth plate will often show tenderness. Occasionally, the plantar aspect may be tender or both of these locations may be found to be tender. Frequently the Achilles tendon is tight and there may have been a recent increase in activity. The factors contributing to this disorder are similar to those causing plantar fasciitis, but a tight Achilles tendon appears to be a greater contributor than pronation.
This can include physical examination and x-ray evaluation. X-rays may show some increased density or sclerosis of the apophysis (island of bone on the back of the heel). This problem may be on one side or bilateral.
Non Surgical Treatment
* Cold packs: Apply ice or cold packs to the back of the heels for around 15 minutes after any physical activity, including walking.
* Shoe inserts: Small heel inserts worn inside the shoes can take some of the traction pressure off the Achilles tendons. This will only be required in the short term.
* Medication: Pain-relieving medication may help in extreme cases, but should always be combined with other treatment and following consultation with your doctor).
* Anti-inflammatory creams: Also an effective management tool.
* Splinting or casting: In severe cases, it may be necessary to immobilise the lower leg using a splint or cast, but this is rare.
* Time: Generally the pain will ease in one to two weeks, although there may be flare-ups from time to time.
* Correction of any biomechanical issues: A physiotherapist can identify and discuss any biomechanical issues that may cause or worsen the condition.
* Education: Education on how to self-manage the symptoms and flare-ups of Sever?s disease is an essential part of the 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.