Addressing Calcaneal Apophysitis

Overview

Sever disease refers to a calcaneal apophysitis (an inflammation of the apophysis of the heel) which occurs in children and young adolescents. It typically presents in active young children (especially ones who engage in jumping and running sports).

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

A few signs and symptoms point to Sever?s disease, which may affect one or both heels. These include pain at the heel or around the Achilles tendon, Heel pain during physical exercise, especially activities that require running or jumping, worsening of pain after exercise, a tender swelling or bulge on the heel that is sore to touch, calf muscle stiffness first thing in the morning, limping, a tendency to tiptoe.

Diagnosis

Low-grade inflammation of the calcaneal apophysis cannot be seen on x-ray. Therefore, although x-rays are often done to rule out bony injuries in children with Sever's disease these x-rays are usually normal. Advanced Sever's disease can be seen on x-ray but usually the problem is treated before it reaches this point. Other diagnostic tests, such as bone scans or MRI's, are not usually required in typical cases of Sever's disease. These, or other tests, may be required to rule out other conditions, such as stress fractures of the calcaneus or other bony abnormalities that can mimic Severs disease.

Non Surgical Treatment

The treatment of Sever's disease depends upon the severity of symptoms experienced by the patient. Care is initiated with a simple program of stretching and heel elevation to weaken the force applied to the calcaneus by the Achilles tendon. If stretches and heel elevation are unsuccessful in controlling the symptoms of Sever's disease, children should be removed from sports and placed on restricted activities. Mild Symptoms. Wear a 3/8 heel lift at all times (not just during physical activity). It is important to use a firm lift and not a soft heel pad. Calf stretches 6/day for 60 seconds each. Calf stretches are best accomplished by standing with the toes on the edge of a stretching block. Moderate Symptoms. Follow the directions for minor symptoms and decrease activity including elimination of any athletic activity. In addition to stretching by day, a night stretching splint can be worn while sleeping. Severe Symptoms. Follow the directions for mild and moderate symptoms. Children should be removed from sports activities such as football, basketball, soccer or gym class. A below knee walking cast with a heel lift or in severe cases, non-weight bearing fiberglass cast, may be indicated for 4-6 weeks. The cast should be applied in a mildly plantar flexed position. Cam Walkers should not be used for Sever's Disease unless they have a built in heel lift.

Recovery

Sever?s disease is self-recovering, meaning that it will go away on its own when the foot is used less or when the bone is through growing. The condition is not expected to create any long-term disability, and expected to subside in 2-8 weeks. Some orthopedic surgeons will put the affected foot in a cast to immobilize it. While symptoms can resolve quickly, they can recur. Sever's disease is more common in boys than girls the average age of symptom onset is nine to eleven years.

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