We’ll get this out of the way first. Yes, sometimes surgery is the best (or only) way to deal with your foot or ankle problem.
For example, a severe bunion that can no longer be tolerated with wider shoes, orthotics, and splints probably just needs to be fixed. And a nerve that’s become entrapped by chronic inflammation or misaligned structure may need surrounding fascia to be surgically “released.”
As medical science continues to advance at a rapid pace, we now have more options at our disposal than ever before—not only to treat symptoms, but to actually heal your body, without invasive surgeries or medications.
One of the most exciting such fields to open up is called regenerative medicine. Dr. Robert Parker, Houston’s high-tech podiatrist, has worked hard to keep up with the latest research and incorporate the most advanced, scientifically backed regenerative treatment options into his practice.
Conservative vs. Surgery—the “Old” Way
For a lot of foot and ankle conditions, the traditional treatment options presented a pretty massive gulf between what could be achieved conservatively versus surgery.
In many cases, conservative therapies were more or less limited to keeping your pain at the lowest possible level and hoping that the body would fix itself in time, or that the lower pain levels would allow you to function normally despite the condition.
We mentioned bunions earlier, and that’s a great example. As a progressive bony deformity, bunions simply do not get “better” on their own—only worse. Conservative treatments are really just about delaying the inevitable. Wider shoes and bunion pads are used to reduce friction. Orthotics to reduce pressure on unstable joints. And medications to manage pain.
But that’s a bony deformity. What about soft tissue injuries or chronic pain? Conditions that you can feel every day but can’t always see from the outside? We’re talking heel pain, arch pain, ankle pain, shin pain—you get the idea.
Again, a lot of the traditional conservative treatments are based around managing symptoms, protecting the area from further damage (for example via a cast or walking boot), and waiting for the body to heal itself. The treatments themselves don’t actually initiate any healing at all—they just mask the problem. Sometimes they even make healing slower.
But when the body doesn’t heal the way it’s supposed to, and pain lingers for months or longer, what then? A risky surgery that may not work? Take pills for the rest of your life? Give up all your former favorite activities forever?
A New Alternative: Regenerative Medicine
When your body’s natural immune response and healing processes can’t react strongly enough to repair injury and restore function, chronic pain is the result. That’s where regenerative medicine steps in.
Although there are many different technologies available, and they use a wide variety of mechanisms to bring about the change, they’re unified by one simple premise—giving your body the “kickstart” it needs to regrow, regenerate, and heal on its own.
That’s not to say that we won’t ever use regenerative medicine in combination with other therapies, including medicines or even (sometimes) surgery. But for many cases of chronic pain—especially those that haven’t responded to more conventional and traditional treatments—regenerative medicine techniques have been able to bring about long-waited healing and completely bypass the need for surgery.
Here are some examples of tools we’re using every day in our office to achieve these amazing effects:
We’re not talking about traditional steroid injections here. Again, those are just band-aids for the problem. They provide temporary relief, but don’t trigger healing—and too many of them can actually weaken tissue.
Instead, we’re talking about other injectable regenerative compounds that do treat the causes of pain. For example:
- Platelet-rich plasma. Used by elite athletes since the late 90s, this technique requires us to draw a sample of your blood, spin it down to separate out the platelets, and re-inject the platelet-rich mixture into the injured area. The platelets are extremely rich in growth factors and other proteins your body needs for healing. Plus, it’s not a strange foreign chemical—it’s your body’s own cells!
- Amniotic fluid and tissue. The tissue is selected from pre-screened moms and kids, and donation does not endanger either. When injected into the site of an injury, the cells in the amniotic matrix can identify the damaged host cells and stimulate repair.
If you remember your schooling, you might recall that light is a form of energy. It’s why your cheek feels warm in the sunlight!
Well, when light energy is harnessed and focused in a very specific way, it can be converted to chemical energy and used by your cells to trigger all sorts of therapeutic effects:
- Analgesic (pain relief)
- Anti-inflammatory (decreased swelling and warmth)
- Bio-stimulatory (energizing cells to grow, repair themselves, use nutrients and oxygen more efficiently, etc.)
We use lasers frequently in the treatment of neuropathic conditions, as well as all forms of chronic soft tissue pain. For our surgical patients, lasers can also help significantly speed up recovery time and reduce complication risks.
The regenerative processes don’t have to have chemical mechanisms. In extracorporeal shockwave therapy (EPAT), the mechanism is mechanical.
The device distributes acoustic pulse waves deep into tissues, where it creates “micro trauma” to the injury area. This doesn’t pose any long-term risk of damage to the tissues, or even much pain. But it does “wake up” your natural healing processes and remind them—gently! —that they have work to do.
Scar tissue gets broken up, new blood vessels are formed, and nutrients and oxygen begin pumping into the area to heal and regrow damaged tissue. EPAT is a great first-choice approach for chronic heel pain, but can be used for a wide variety of other conditions as well.
Can Regenerative Medicine Help Me?
Not everyone will require advanced regenerative treatment options. Minor aches and pains can often still be treated conservatively, while we count on the body to work its repair systems on their own. And as we said at the beginning, sometimes surgery really is inevitable.
However, regenerative medicine techniques really are the “new wave.” We have found them to be extremely beneficial for a wide variety of conditions, and they often work better, faster, and with fewer risk or side effects than other forms of treatment. And even when surgery is inevitable, regenerative medicine makes a great companion during the recovery and rehabilitation phase of treatment.
Obviously, every case is unique. But we’re excited about this technology, and so glad we get to share it with you! To schedule an appointment with Dr. Parker to talk about your foot pain and treatment options, please call us today at (855) 465-2577.