Physical Therapy For Calcaneal Apophysitis

Overview

Sever?s disease, also known as calcaneal apophysitis, is a common heel problem affecting children. This heel bone disorder is often painful, though it?s usually temporary and causes no long-term health effects. With Sever?s disease, the Achilles tendon repeatedly pulls on the heel?s growth plate, causing microtrauma (i.e. microfractures), inflammation, and swelling in the affected area. Sever?s disease is similar to Osgood-Schlatter disease, which affects the knee. Inappropriate footwear may be a contributing factor in the onset of this condition.

Causes

A child is most at risk for this condition when he or she is in the early part of the growth spurt in early puberty. Sever?s disease is most common in physically active girls eight to ten years old and in physically active boys ten to twelve years old. Soccer players and gymnasts often get Sever?s disease, but children who do any running or jumping activity may be affected. Sever?s disease rarely occurs in older teenagers, because the back of the heel has finished growing by the age of fifteen.

Symptoms

The typical patient is a child between 10 and 13 years of age, complaining of pain in one or both heels with running and walking. The pain is localized to the point of the heel where the tendo-achilles inserts into the calcaneus (heel bone), and is tender to deep pressure at that site. Walking on his toes relieves the pain.

Diagnosis

A physical exam of the heel will show tenderness over the back of the heel but not in the Achilles tendon or plantar fascia. There may be tightness in the calf muscle, which contributes to tension on the heel. The tendons in the heel get stretched more in patients with flat feet. There is greater impact force on the heels of athletes with a high-arched, rigid foot. 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

Treatment is primarily directed towards reducing the amount of stress to the heel. Often a heel lift, is placed in the shoe to reduce the pull of the Achilles tendon on the apophysis. Gel or cushioned heel cups may also be helpful in reducing micro trauma to the heel. Orthotic control may also be indicated when a pathologic condition exists in the foot that may be contributing to the increased heel stress. Occasionally, it becomes necessary for adequate healing, to rest the area completely. This can be accomplished either by complete elimination of all strenuous activities, or by using a walking cast or crutches. Often simply reducing activity levels is adequate. Your physician will discuss the best treatment plan with you and your child.

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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