What Is Calcaneal Apophysitis?

Overview

Sever disease, first described in 1912, is a painful inflammation of the calcaneal apophysis. It is classified with the child and adolescent nonarticular osteochondroses. (The other disease in this group is Iselin disease, which is inflammation of the base of the fifth metatarsal.) The etiology of pain in Sever disease is believed to be repetitive trauma to the weaker structure of the apophysis, induced by the pull of the tendo calcaneus (Achilles tendon) on its insertion. This results in a clinical picture of heel pain in a growing active child, which worsens with activity. Sever disease is a self-limited condition; accordingly, no known complication exists from failure to make the correct diagnosis.

Causes

Apart from age, other factors that may contribute to developing Sever?s disease include physical activity, any form of exercise that is weight bearing through the legs or stresses the soft tissue can exacerbate the pain of the disease. External factors, for example, running on hard surfaces or wearing inappropriate shoes during sport. Overuse injury, very active children may repeatedly but subtly injure the bones, muscles and tendons of their feet and ankles. In time, the accumulated injuries cause symptoms.

Symptoms

The symptoms of Sever?s Disease may vary but usually include generalised pain and discomfort around the back of the heel. Can be one sided or both sides. Starts after child starts a new sport season. May cause child to limp due to pain. Increases with weight bearing activity. Heel becomes red and can be swollen. X-rays are usually inconclusive and simply show the growth plate.

Diagnosis

A doctor can usually tell that a child has Sever's disease based on the symptoms reported. To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor will probably examine the heels and ask about the child's activity level and participation in sports. The doctor might also use the squeeze test, squeezing the back part of the heel from both sides at the same time to see if doing so causes pain. The doctor might also ask the child to stand on tiptoes to see if that position causes pain. Although imaging tests such as X-rays generally are not that helpful in diagnosing Sever's disease, some doctors order them to rule out other problems, such as fractures. Sever's disease cannot be seen on an X-ray.

Non Surgical Treatment

Management by a health professional of Sever's disease is often wise. There are a few very rare problems that may be causing the pain, so a correct diagnosis is extremely important. Advice should be given on all of what is mentioned above, appropriate activity levels, the use of ice, always wearing shoes, heel raises and stretching, follow this advice. As a pronated foot is common in children with this problem, a discussion regarding the use of foot orthotics long term may be important. Strapping or tape is sometimes used during activity to limit the ankle joint range of motion. If the symptoms are bad enough and not responding to these measures, medication to help with anti-inflammatory may be needed. In some cases the lower limb may need to be put in a cast for 2-6 weeks to give it a good chance to heal. After the calcaneal apophysitis resolves, prevention with the use of stretching, good supportive shock absorbing shoe and heel raises are important to prevent it happening again.

Exercise

The following exercises are commonly prescribed to patients with Severs disease. You should discuss the suitability of these exercises with your physiotherapist prior to beginning them. Generally, they should be performed 1 - 3 times daily and only provided they do not cause or increase symptoms. Your physiotherapist can advise when it is appropriate to begin the initial exercises and eventually progress to the intermediate, advanced and other exercises. As a general rule, addition of exercises or progression to more advanced exercises should take place provided there is no increase in symptoms. Calf Stretch with Towel. Begin this stretch in long sitting with your leg to be stretched in front of you. Your knee and back should be straight and a towel or rigid band placed around your foot as demonstrated. Using your foot, ankle and the towel, bring your toes towards your head as far as you can go without pain and provided you feel no more than a mild to moderate stretch in the back of your calf, Achilles tendon or leg. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 10 times at a mild to moderate stretch provided the exercise is pain free. Calf Stretch with Towel. Begin this exercise with a resistance band around your foot and your foot and ankle held up towards your head. Slowly move your foot and ankle down against the resistance band as far as possible and comfortable without pain, tightening your calf muscle. Very slowly return back to the starting position. Repeat 10 - 20 times provided the exercise is pain free. Once you can perform 20 repetitions consistently without pain, the exercise can be progressed by gradually increasing the resistance of the band provided there is no increase in symptoms. Bridging. Begin this exercise lying on your back in the position demonstrated. Slowly lift your bottom pushing through your feet, until your knees, hips and shoulders are in a straight line. Tighten your bottom muscles (gluteals) as you do this. Hold for 2 seconds then slowly lower your bottom back down. Repeat 10 times provided the exercise is pain free.

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