Posted by Jenn F. on Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013
For Deena Hansen of Yankton, South Dakota, each step sent a shockwave of pain rippling through her body. Even worse than the pain was the shots she had to get in her foot to relieve the pain she’s suffered for a year and a half. She tried the cortisone shots in addition to physical therapy and corrective shoes, but nothing worked. “You have a strike against you in the morning before you ever get out of bed. Chronic pain rules your life,” she told KSFY News. She was the perfect candidate for cryosurgery.
What Is Cryosurgery?
Cryosurgery uses extreme cold to destroy abnormal tissue. The word comes from the Greek “cryo” (icy cold) and “cheirourgiki” (handiwork). Its applications range from killing cancerous tumors in liver and prostate, to disarming foot neuromas and destroying warts. Surgeons often prefer cryosurgery because it is “minimally invasive” — meaning that there is very minimal pain, scarring, recovery and cost. Third Age reports that cryosurgery for heel pain has been FDA-approved since 2003. The procedure costs in the ballpark of $500 and is covered by Medicare, as well as most other medical plans, they add.
How Is Cryosurgery Used To Treat Plantar Fasciitis?
When a patient comes in, a local anesthetic is used to numb the foot. A small incision is made into the heel and a cryoprobe is then inserted. The probe is positioned to the area of pain. Liquid nitrogen causes a pea-sized ice ball to form on the end of the probe, which freezes the nerve cells that cause the pain and the surrounding inflamed tissue. This intervention prompts the foot to then heal itself. The whole procedure is done within 15 to 30 minutes.
What Is Cryosurgery Recovery Like?
Many patients can resume activities immediately. Post-operative discomfort is very minimal. Deena Hansen’s doctor recommended that she stay off her feet and ice her heel for three to four days. She will also continue to use orthotics for added arch support. However, she reports that she felt immediate relief and hasn’t had any pain since her procedure. “It’s been great,” she says.
What Does The Medical Community Say About Cryosurgery For Heel Pain?
In Podiatry Today, Dr. Lawrence Fallat, DPM said he has been using cryosurgery on patients for three years. All of his patients had previously tried other therapies, including: steroid injections, pain relievers, orthotics, physical therapy, night splints, shockwave therapy, endoscopic plantar fasciotomy and percutaneous medial fascial release. “After undergoing cryosurgery, approximately 90% of the patients had complete resolution of pain or had only minor residual pain that required no treatment,” he reported.
A study conducted by RGV Footcare in Texas looked at 106 patients with plantar fasciitis who had tried other therapies to no avail. Out of the 106, 77.4% of the patients found relief through cryosurgery. The mean “pain scale” dropped from 7.6 to 1.6 at three weeks, and 1.1 after two years. Only 31 subjects did not find the treatment effective for their pain. The researchers concluded that the therapy was considered successful for immediate and long-term pain relief.
“While this treatment is relatively new for foot pain, physicians have utilized cryosurgery for pain relief for decades,” says Mark Katz DPM in Podiatry Today. He explains that other procedures like surgery and endoscopic procedures carry added risks, such as a neuroma (tumor) of the medial and lateral calcaneal nerve branches. He cites numerous case studies where cryosurgery has helped patients with severe chronic pain, inflammation, burning and nerve damage. “The procedure is cost effective and provides the patient with minimal downtime as well as a low complication rate. I encourage our profession to embrace this technology,” Dr. Katz writes.