Calcaneal Fractures

Calcaneal Fractures

Fractures of the calcaneus (heel bone) is the most common tarsal bone fracture. Most calcaneal fractures occur as the result of a fall from a height greater than 14 feet. Calcaneal fractures are common among roofers and rock climbers. The second most common contributing cause to these types of traumatic fractures are vehicle accidents. Calcaneal fractures are most commonly found in males age 30-50 y/o.

Calcaneal fractures have a track record of being difficult to treat and have frustrated doctors for a long time. The situation in treating calcaneal fractures is in trying to rebuild the crack to ensure that therapeutic may take place. The particular calcaneus is much like an egg; an outer firm shell and soft on the inside. As a result, the calcaneus frequently shatters when broken. Calcaneal repair not only calls for re-apposition of multiple break patterns, but also demands restoration of the subtalar joint. The actual subtalar joint is the interface between the calcaneus as well as talus and is a primary load bearing joint of the base. In some cases, additional joint surfaces may be affected (the calcaneal cuboid joint) but are of lesser importance because of the limited weight bearing tasks.

Two classifications are used for the classification of calcaneal fractures. The actual Rowe classification and the Essex-Lopresti classification both describe calcaneal fractures. TheEssex-Lopresti classification describes subtalar joint depressive disorder fractures (very extreme fractures) in a little more detail than the more commonly used Rowe group. Plain xrays and CT scans are often used to determine the extent and classification of calcaneal fractures.

Type 1a - Tuberosity fracture medial or lateral

Type 1c - Fracture of the anterior process of the calcaneus

Type 2b - Avulsion fracture involving the insertion with the tendo-Achillles

Type 4 - Body crack involving the subtalar joint

The Essex-Lopresti Group Of Calcaneal Fractures

Type a - Tongue Type

Type B - Joint depression type.

Stress Fractures from the Calcaneus

Stress fractures of the calcaneus are typically the result of a sudden abrupt injury but can occur without a history of trauma. The most common injury seen our practice is a fall from a height of more than 6 feet. A stress fracture of the calcaneus is a condition that is often overlooked as a differential diagnosis of heel pain. Plantar fasciitis (also called heel spur syndrome)is so common that most health care providers will defer to plantar fasciitis as a primary diagnosis when analyzing heel pain. A good patient history, and also particularly one that notes the onset and character of the pain, is very important when distinguishing between plantar fasciitis and calcaneal stress fractures.

The diagnosis of calcaneal stress fractures can be difficult at times. Stress fractures, regardless of where they occur in the body, are different than what we would tend to think of when we discuss fractures. The appearance of a stress fracture on x-ray are not always evident.. Quite often, the only x-ray findings that we'll see are the ones that show up for the end of the healing process, sometimes as long as several months after the damage. We don't actually visualize the crack, but rather we see the calcification that occurs in the late phases of the healing process. Should the symptoms of heel pain not respond to treatment for plantar fasciitis, or original clinical findings seem suggestive of a stress fracture, there are several tools that can be used to help differentiate between calcaneal stress fractures and each of the other common conditions considered for heel pain.

Plain x-rays may be able to see a calcaneal crack, but quite often, due to the lack of disruption of the bone, plain films lack the ability to 'see' the fracture. As fractures heal, many times the healing process can be seen on plain x-ray films. The recovery process will increase the amount of calcium encircling the crack. This process of calcification typically takes about 4-6 weeks to see on plain x-ray, therefore, periodic follow-up x-rays may aid in diagnosing a stress fracture of the heel.

Three phase technitium bone scan can help differentiate the location and degree of inflammation in the calcaneus thereby helping to identify a calcaneal stress fracture. Bone scans are a test where a radioactive nucleotide is injected into the patient and a scan is taken of the injured area three times over the course of three hours. Each of the scans show a different amount of inflammation based upon the increased blood flow to the inflamed area. In the case of a calcaneal crack, a bone scan can help in many ways.

  • First, the scan will locate the area of the fracture based upon the inflammation seen in fracture healing.
  • Second, the bone scan will help to differentiate between a great many other potential problems from the heel such as plantar fasciitis.
  • And lastly, a scan might help to determine the acuteness of an injury.
  • For instance, we may see a questionable area on an x-ray but we shall not be able to tell whether the suspected injury is old or new.
  • The bone scan will help us in that a new injury can 'light up' on the scan due to its' current irritation.
  • An old injury on the other hand is not going to gentle up' on the scan due to its' insufficient current inflammation.
  • MRI's are also helpful in differentiating calcaneal fractures from plantar fasciitis.
  • MRI's can identify small areas of bone edema suggestive of a fracture.

Treatment of Calcaneal Fractures

As previously mentioned, calcaneal fractures can be very difficult to manage. Closed reduction is a term used when doctors may manipulate the break under anesthesia without surgery. Closed reduction can be successful in treating calcaneal fractures in many cases depending upon the stage of fracture. Open reduction (surgical reduction of the fracture) is not guaranteed to produce more successful outcomes. Calcaneal fractures can range from simple to explosive. Follow-up following reduction (whether close or open) may differ but will include a period of non-weight bearing, splinting or throwing to allow for fracture healing.

  • Severe cases of joint depression fractures (Rowe type 4 and additional surgery may be forced to fuse the subtalar joint.
  • When the subtalar joint is significantly damaged in the injury, blend of the stj will be the only solution.
  • Most doctors will stage these types of treatments, performing a subtalar fusion long after the immediate trauma of the injury.
  • Treatment of calcaneal stress fractures varies with the severity of the fracture as well as the degree of pain.
  • Numerous cases of calcaneal stress fractures are simply treated with rest and a decrease of activity.
  • Others may necessitate a walking cast or period of non-weight bearing.
  • Operative treatment is rarely indicated.
  • Healing of calcaneal stress fractures can be prolonged and may require a period of several months to heal.


Calcaneus - The actual bone of the heel.

  • Subtalar Joint - (STJ) the joint between the two major bones of the rearfoot, the talus and calcaneus.
  • The particular STJ is a common site of residual arthritis pursuing calcaneal fractures.
  • Technitium - a radioactive substance that is attracted to area of inflamation.
  • Used as the active substance in bone reads.
  • Anatomy: The calcaneus is very firm on its' outer surface but soft and also spongy on the inside, very similar to an egg.
  • It's an unusually shaped bone with numerous surfaces making up the support for the subtalar joint and the calcaneal cuboid joint.


The biomechanics of calcaneal stress fractures has not been defined. Due to the fact that most calcaneal stress fractures occur due to a random traumatic incident, no defined pathway for that cracks has been proven. Symptoms: The diagnosis of a calcaneal stress fracture is usually considering pain in which continues following an incident of trauma. From time to time a calcaneal stress fracture will have an insidious onset, but many with have got a serious onset. Edema (swelling) and erythema redness) may or may not be present.

The most common symptom of a calcaneal stress fracture, and the one indicator that can help to differentiate tension fractures from fasciitis, is the nature of the pain. Stress fracture pain is constant. It hurts when a person's body weight is first applied and continues to hurt. Pain due to plantar fasciitis is sharp in the beginning of weight bearing yet soon subsides, to be able to a qualification, over 5-10 minutes.

The Location of Pain is Important Too

Stress fracture pain will generally (and not always) be in the body of the calcaneus. Pressure to the medial and lateral walls of the calcaneus result in pain. Plantar fascial pain is specific to the bottom of the heel and is average with direct pressure, but sever with weight bearing.

Differential Diagnosis:

Baxter's nerve entrapment - an entrapment of the recurrent branch of the posterior tibial nerve.

Gout - deposition of monosodium urate crystals (hyperuricemia)

Heel Spur Syndrome - See Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis - a common condition of the heel that results in pulling by the plantar fascia and a tearing pain at the attachment of the fascia on the bottom of the heel. Pain is severe with the first few steps out of bed in the morning or after a brief period of rest.

Retrocalcaneal bursitis (Albert's Disease) - this really is the formation and inflammation of a bursa at the back of the heel between the heel bone and Achilles tendon

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatic Fever.

Septic Arthritis

Sero-negative arthropathies such as Reiter's Syndrome.

Sever's Disease - and inflammatory situation typically found in youthful over weight boys age 10 to 15 years old

  • Tarsal Tunnel Affliction - also called posterior tibial nerve neuralgia.
  • Tarsal Canal Syn. characteristically has pain that does not decrease with rest.
  • Also has numbness or 'tingling' with the toes


Rowe CR, Sakellarides HT, Freeman PA, et al. Fractures of the operating system calcis: long term follow-up study of 146 patients. JAMA.


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  • Hermann OJ. conservative remedy for fractures of the operatingsystem calcis.
  • J Bone Joint Surg 1963:45-A:865-867

Palmer I. The device and also treatment of fractures of the calcaneus: open reduction with the use of cancellous grafts. JBone Joint surg 1948;30-A(1):2-8

About the Author:Jeffrey a

Oster, DPM, C.Ped is a board certified foot and ankle surgeon. Dr. Oster is also board certified in pedorthics. Dr. Oster is medical director of Myfootshop.com and is in active exercise in Granville, Ohio.