Thresa Bauswell

The Globe's Premier Foot Blog Site

Living With Calcaneal Apophysitis

Overview

Severs disease (calcaneal apophysitis) is a self-limiting condition seen in physically active children. Although there is controversy about the radiographic appearance, some reports propose the importance of fragmentation of the secondary nucleus in the diagnosis of Severs disease. We studied secondary nucleus of the calcaneus with ultrasonography. Twenty-one symptomatic heels of 14 children were examined. All these heels showed fragmentation of the secondary nucleus on both conventional radiograph and sonography. Ultrasonographic examination also showed 2 retrocalcaneal bursitis. Our initial data showed that sonography may be valuable in the diagnosis of Severs disease.

Causes

Sever disease, like other similar conditions (eg, Osgood-Schlatter disease, little-leaguer's elbow, and iliac apophysitis), is believed to be caused by decreased resistance to shear stress at the bone-growth plate interface. Studies have indicated that traction apophyses have a higher composition of fibrocartilage than epiphyses subjected more to axial load, which are composed predominantly of hyaline cartilage. The anatomy of the calcaneal apophysis lends to significant shear stress because of its vertical orientation and the direction of pull from the strong gastrocnemius-soleus muscle group.

Symptoms

The symptoms include pain, tenderness, swelling or redness in the heel, and they might have difficulty walking or putting pressure on the heel. If you notice that your child suddenly starts walking around on their toes because their heels hurt, that?s a dead giveaway. Kids who play sports might also complain of foot pain after a game or practice. As they grow, the muscles and tendons will catch up and eventually the pressure will subside along with the pain. But in the meantime, it can become very uncomfortable.

Diagnosis

Sever?s disease can be diagnosed based on your history and symptoms. Clinically, your physiotherapist will perform a "squeeze test" and some other tests to confirm the diagnosis. Some children suffer Sever?s disease even though they do less exercise than other. This indicates that it is not just training volume that is at play. Foot and leg biomechanics are a predisposing factor. The main factors thought to predispose a child to Sever?s disease include decrease ankle dorsiflexion, abnormal hind foot motion eg overpronation or supination, tight calf muscles, excessive weight-bearing activities eg running.

Non Surgical Treatment

A doctor, sports therapist or physiotherapist can apply a plaster cast or boot if the child is in severe pain. This may be worn for a few days or even weeks and should give relief of pain for a while. Carry out a full biomechanical assessment. This may help to determine if any foot biomechanics issues are contributing to the condition. Orthotics or insoles can be prescribed to help correct over pronation or other biomechanics issues. Prescribe anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen to reduce pain and inflammation. This will not be prescribed if asthma the child has asthma. In persistent cases X-rays may be taken but this is not usual. A doctor, sports therapist or physiotherapist will NOT give a steroid injection or operate as these are not suitable treatment options. The condition will usually settle within 6 months, although it can persist for longer.

Prevention

Sever's disease may be prevented by maintaining good joint and muscle flexibility in the years leading up to, and during, their growth spurts (eg girls 8 to 10, boys 10 to 12). Foot arch problems such as flat feet should be addressed after the age of five if they don't appear to be self-correcting. If you are concerned, please ask your health practitioner. The most important factor is the amount of weight-bearing exercise your child is currently performing. Finally, LISTEN To Your Child! If your child is suffering heel pain between the ages of 8 to 12, suspect Sever's disease until proven otherwise. Seek the professional opinion of your foot practitioner regarding its diagnosis and subsequent management.
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