Fractures of the Calcaneus (Heel Bone Fractures)
What is the Calcaneus?
The calcaneus, also called the heel bone, is a large bone that forms the foundation of the rear part of the foot. The calcaneus connects with the talus and cuboid bones. The connection between the talus and calcaneus forms the subtalar joint. This joint is important for normal foot function.
The calcaneus is often compared to a hard boiled egg, because it has a thin, hard shell on the outside and softer, spongy bone on the inside. When the outer shell is broken, the bone tends to collapse and become fragmented. For this reason, calcaneal fractures are severe injuries.
Furthermore, if the fracture involves the joints, there is the potential for long-term consequences such as arthritis and chronic pain.
How do Calcaneal Fractures Occur?
- Most calcaneal fractures are the result of a traumatic event—most commonly, falling from a height, such as a ladder, or
- being in an automobile accident where the heel is crushed against the floorboard.
Calcaneal fractures can also occur with other types of injuries, such as an ankle sprain. A smaller number of calcaneal fractures are stress fractures, caused by overuse or repetitive stress on the heel bone.
The heel bone is the largest bone in the foot and absorbs the most amount of shock and pressure. A heel spur develops as an abnormal growth of the heel bone. Calcium deposits form when the plantar fascia pulls away from the heel area, causing a bony protrusion, or heel spur to develop.
The plantar fascia is a broad band of fibrous tissue located along the bottom surface of the foot that runs from the heel to the forefoot. Heel spurs can cause extreme pain in the rearfoot, especially while standing or walking.
Heel spurs develop as an abnormal growth in the heel bone due to calcium deposits that form when the plantar fascia pulls away from the heel. This stretching of the plantar fascia is usually the result of over-pronation (flat feet), but people with unusually high arches (pes cavus) can also develop heel spurs. Women have a significantly higher incidence of heel spurs due to the types of footwear often worn on a regular basis.
Calcaneal Apophysitis (Sever's Disease)
What Is Calcaneal Apophysitis?
Calcaneal apophysitis is a painful inflammation of the heel’s growth plate. It typically affects children between the ages of 8 and 14 years old, because the heel bone (calcaneus) is not fully developed until at least age 14. Until then, new bone is forming at the growth plate (physis), a weak area located at the back of the heel. When there is too much repetitive stress on the growth plate, inflammation can develop.
Calcaneal apophysitis is also called Sever’s disease, although it is not a true “disease.” It is the most common cause of heel pain in children, and can occur in one or both feet.
Heel pain in children differs from the most common type of heel pain experienced by adults. While heel pain in adults usually subsides after a period of walking, pediatric heel pain generally doesn’t improve in this manner. In fact, walking typically makes the pain worse.
What is Equinus?
Equinus is a condition in which the upward bending motion of the ankle joint is limited. Someone with equinus lacks the flexibility to bring the top of the foot toward the front of the leg. Equinus can occur in one or both feet. When it involves both feet, the limitation of motion is sometimes worse in one foot than in the other.
People with Equinus develop ways to “compensate” for their limited ankle motion, and this often leads to other foot, leg, or back problems. The most common methods of compensation are flattening of the arch or picking up the heel early when walking, placing increased pressure on the ball of the foot. Other patients compensate by “toe walking,” while a smaller number take steps by bending abnormally at the hip or knee.
There are several possible causes for the limited range of ankle motion. Often it is due to tightness in the Achilles tendon or calf muscles (the soleus muscle and/or gastrocnemius muscle). In some patients, this tightness is congenital (present at birth) and sometimes it is an inherited trait. Other patients acquire the tightness from being in a cast, being on crutches, or frequently wearing high-heeled shoes. In addition, diabetes can affect the fibres of the Achilles tendon and cause tightness.
Heel fissures, also known as cracked heels can be a simple cosmetic problem and a nuisance, but can also lead to serious medical problems. Heel fissures occur when the skin on the bottom, outer edge of the heel becomes hard, dry and flaky, sometimes causing deep fissures (cracks) that can be painful or bleed.
Heel fissures can affect anyone, but risk factors include:
- Living in a dry climate
- Consistently walking barefoot or wearing sandals or open-backed shoes
- Inactive sweat glands
Like many foot conditions, heel fissures can become more dangerous if they go untreated and become deep or infected. This is especially dangerous for people with diabetes or compromised immune systems.