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Preventing and Treating Heel Pain in Young Athletes: Understanding Calcaneal Apophysitis

As preseason comes to an end, young athletes are getting ready to embark on another season of sports, but with that, comes the risk of common injuries such as heel pain. One of the most frequent causes of heel pain in young athletes is Calcaneal Apophysitis, a common adolescent inflammatory condition affecting the heel bone

What is Calcaneal Apophysitis

Calcaneal apophysitis, also known as Sever’s disease, is a common condition that affects young athletes who engage in activities that put a lot of stress on their feet, such as running, jumping, and playing sports. It is a painful condition that affects the growth plate in the heel bone, called the calcaneus.

During growth spurts, the muscles, bones, and tendons of young athletes develop at different rates, causing muscles and tendons to become tight and pull on the growth plate in the heel. Sports and activities exacerbate the problem, leading to injury and pain.

Other symptoms may include:

Pain in the heel

Pain is the most common symptom of calcaneal apophysitis in young athletes. Children usually complain of pain in the heel or at the back of the heel where the Achilles tendon attaches. The pain can be mild to severe and may increase with physical activity.

Swelling and redness in the heel

In some cases, young athletes may also experience swelling and redness in the heel area. The skin around the affected area may feel warm to the touch.

Stiffness in heels or feet first thing in the morning

Young athletes with calcaneal apophysitis may experience stiffness in their heels or feet first thing in the morning. This stiffness usually improves with mild physical activity, but may return after prolonged periods of rest.

Limping/altered gait

As the pain worsens, young athletes may begin to limp or alter their gait in order to avoid putting pressure on the affected heel.

An increase in pain when the heel is squeezed on both sides

Another symptom of calcaneal apophysitis is an increase in pain when the heel is squeezed on both sides. This is known as the squeeze test and is often used by doctors to diagnose the condition.

Prevention Calcaneal Apophysitis and Treatment

If your child is experiencing heel pain, it’s important to seek treatment promptly. A combination of therapies is usually suggested, including:

Icing the area

Icing the heel after or before activity can reduce inflammation and decrease pain in the area. Applying ice to the heel after or before physical activity can reduce inflammation and decrease pain in the area. It is recommended to apply ice for 15-20 minutes at a time, several times a day.

Footwear change

Choosing the right footwear for activity is very important, having a supportive, comfortable shoe and football boot will decrease the risk of developing further injury

Heel cushions and or heel lifts

Heel pads or lifts are great for supporting and taking load away from the tendon at the back of the heel, as well as providing comfort and cushioning.

Activity Modification

Reducing or grading the amount of activity our child is doing when dealing with Calcaneal Apophysitis is very important to settle and help the healing process of heel pain.

Biomechanical Assessment

We all move differently! Having a biomechanical or gait analysis from your podiatrist may be a great way to discover areas of the body that are being overloaded or not functioning at their full potential

It is important to remember that prevention is key in avoiding calcaneal apophysitis in young athletes. Encourage your child to take breaks during physical activity, wear properly fitting shoes, stretch before and after activity, and gradually increase physical activity over time. If your child does experience heel pain, seek medical attention promptly to prevent further damage to the growth plate.

Don’t Let Heel Pain Keep your Young Athlete on the Sidelines!

Preventing Calcaneal Apophysitis and other heel injuries requires understanding how your child’s feet are operating and choosing the right footwear for the activity. With proper prevention and treatment, it can be effectively managed, allowing your child to return to their sports and physical activities. If you suspect your child is at risk of developing Calcaneal Apophysitis, speak to a Podiatrist about preventative measures and treatment options.