Calcaneal Apophysitis Physical Therapy

Overview

Sever’s Disease is not a disease in the sense of an infection or other chronic pathology but is an injury/irritation of a growth plate. The Calcaneal growth plate or growth plate in the heel bone has attachments from the achilles tendon and the plantar fascia. Pull from either or both of these structures can cause enough motion within the apophysis or growth plate space to create irritation and inflammation which can be quite painful and limiting. This can start when the growth plate is still wide open but is more often seen as the growth plate starts to close further limiting its ability to move with the traction of soft tissue attachments. It was believed by Sever that fractures within the growth plate were the source of the discomfort. When looking at a growth plate that has started to close it can appear to be fragmented into 2 or 3 pieces. It has since been proven that this is the normal appearance of a closing growth plate.

Causes

The actual pathology of the condition is one of more of an overuse syndrome in which the growth plate of the heel may become slightly displaced, causing pain. Biopsies of similar conditions have shown changes consistent with separation of the cartilage. The cause of Sever’s disease is not entirely clear. It is most likely due to overuse or repeated minor trauma that happens in a lot of sporting activities – the cartilage join between the two parts of the bone can not take all the shear stress of the activities. Some children seem to be just more prone to it for an unknown reason, combine this with sport, especially if its on a hard surface and the risk of getting it increases. A pronated foot and tight calf muscles are common contributing factors. The condition is very similar to Osgood-Schlatters Disease which occurs at the knee.

Symptoms

Pain in the lower calf and heel area which may be worse when applying pressure either side. Pain worse on activity especially those involving running or jumping. In severe cases this may cause the child to limp when walking. One or both heels affected.

Diagnosis

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

First, your child should cut down or stop any activity that causes heel pain. Apply ice to the injured heel for 25 minutes three times a day. Your child should not go barefoot. If your child has severe heel pain, ibuprofen (Advil) will help. It is important that your child performs exercises to stretch the hamstring and calf muscles, and the tendons on the back of the leg. The child should do these stretches five times each, two or three times a day. Each stretch should be held for 20 seconds. Your child also needs to do exercises to strengthen the muscles on the front of the shin. To do this, have your child stand facing a wall to stretch the calves and the heel cord. Place one foot a shoulder?s width in front of the other, both feet facing the wall. The front knee is bent and the back knee is straight during the calf stretch. Then have your child push against the wall and feel the stretch in his or her back leg. To stretch out the heel cord, have him or her stay in the same position and bend the back knee. Repeat three times. Practice this stretch twice daily.

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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