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Calcaneal Apophysitis The Facts

Overview

Sever's Disease, also known as calcaneal apophysitis, is a disease of the growth plate of the heel bone (calcaneus) and is characterized by pain in the heel of a child's foot, typically brought on by some form of injury or minor trauma from sports participation. This condition is most common in children ages 9 to 14 and is frequently seen in active soccer, football, or baseball players. Sport shoes with cleats are also known to aggravate the condition. The disease can mimic Achilles tendonitis, an inflammation of the tendon attached to the back of the heel. A tight Achilles tendon contributes to Sever's Disease by pulling excessively on the growth plate of the heel bone. Feet that flatten out to excess (hyperpronate) are also prone to this problem, as this can involve extra torque on the calcaneus by the Achilles tendon.

Causes

Overuse and stress on the heel bone through participation in sports is a major cause of calcaneal apophysitis. The heel?s growth plate is sensitive to repeated running and pounding on hard surfaces, resulting in muscle strain and inflamed tissue. For this reason, children and adolescents involved in soccer, track, or basketball are especially vulnerable. Other potential causes of calcaneal apophysitis include obesity, a tight Achilles tendon, and biomechanical problems such as flatfoot or a high-arched foot.

Symptoms

Pain is reproduced through a gentle squeeze of the back of the heel. Children may present with a limp or ?Bouncy gait?. Pain is worse barefoot and often present in the mornings and post exercise. The pain is located at the back of the heel, with localized swelling of the area.

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

Massage the calves gently from the knee to the heel, being especially careful around the Achilles? tendon, as this will be extremely tight and tender. During this massage, flex and point the foot through normal pain-free ranges of motion to increase flexibility while massaging. Massage every other or every third day, making sure your young athlete is not still sore before massaging again. If you?re unsure how to massage, find someone in your area that uses Graston technique or Active Release Therapy for best results. Stretch your athlete?s calves. This is the most overlooked aspect of treatment for Sever?s Disease and this needs to be done every day after practice, and when first starting we recommend 2-3 times per day, allowing gravity to pull heel down, never forcing the stretch. Ice your heels, but don?t just put an ice pack there. Use a cold water soak to fully immerse the foot and calves up to the knee. We recommend using a rubbermaid can found here. Soak for 10-15 minutes. The water does not have to be frigid, just cold. Use cold water from the tap, insert the foot, then add some ice to help bring down the temperature. When your athlete is experiencing pain, ice every hour, on the hour, for as many times as possible in one day. Make sure the heel/calves are body temperature before beginning again. Support the arches. This is what has been shown in studies to reduce pain in young athletes with Sever?s Disease. If you miss out on this one, you miss out on relieving your athletes pain.

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. The disease may also take several years to stop, because it is often triggered by growing too fast. It is more common in boys, although occurs in girls as well. The average age of symptom onset is 9-11.
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