The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Newly Approved Synthetic Cartilage Works Wonders For Toe Osteoarthritis

Posted by on Monday, March 6th, 2017

Osteoarthritis (OA) affects roughly 27 million Americans. Not surprisingly, the foot is one of the most common areas affected by joint cartilage degradation that can result from OA. OA is not merely a matter of “inevitable wear and tear” as we age; rather, it’s a disease process that is a result of many factors such as genetics, excess weight, tendon and ligament injuries, and the presence of other disorders such as acromegaly (a condition involving abnormal growth of the hands and feet) or hemochromatosis (a condition involving joint damage from excess iron.)

As osteoarthritis worsens over time, the bones can break down, causing chips (called “bone spurs”) that float around inside the joint. In response, inflammation occurs, prompting the accumulation of proteins and enzymes that further erode the cartilage. In the final stages of OA, there is no soft tissue remaining in the joint — just bone rubbing up against bone, which accelerates joint damage and causes excruciating pain.

The NYC foot surgeons at The Center For Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine are excited about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of a new synthetic cartilage that can be used in the treatment of osteoarthritis involving the foot and toe, offering these patients a pain-free step forward for the first time in years.

This may look like a mini marshmallow, but it’s actually a new toe implant used to treat Osteoarthritis! (Image Source:
This may look like a mini marshmallow, but it’s actually a new toe implant used to treat osteoarthritis! (Image Source:

Pennsylvania Woman Chooses New Implant the Morning It’s Approved

CBS News tells the story of Logan Snyder, a woman who grew up playing softball but began to experience pain in her toes at the young age of 12 or 13. She was diagnosed with hallux rigidus, a form of arthritis affecting the big toe joint. This condition left this young woman in “agony,” as walking and even standing was extremely painful. She described the feeling as “aching, almost like a stabbing” that she experienced any time there was movement in the toe joint. 

She tried all of the standard first-line treatments — shoe inserts, rocker sole shoes, anti-inflammatory drugs, steroid injections — to no avail. She underwent a number of operations to resurface the damaged toe bones in an attempt to relieve the pain and pressure, but the pain medications made her sick. Nothing seemed to bring relief.

Finally, doctors at West Penn Hospital were able to offer her a new type of synthetic cartilage, which was approved by the FDA several months ago. It’s a squishy-but-firm, breathable hydrogel — almost similar to the material that’s utilized in contact lenses. The woman was understandably nervous, as she was the doctor’s first patient to undergo the procedure with this brand-new implant (which was actually approved for usage on the morning of her surgery!)

The procedure required surgeons to drill into the end of the toe bone, remove the bone spurs, flex the toe, insert the jelly bean sized implant using specialized instrumentation, re-align the toe and close the incision. The alternative — bone fusion, which literally entails fusing the joint bones to make it immobile — would relieve her pain, but this procedure would have left her unable to move the toes. She would also walk with a permanent limp. 

What Are the Advantages of Synthetic Cartilage Implants for Osteoarthritis?

Synthetic cartilage has many advantages:

  • Patients experience improved mobility just two weeks post-surgery.
  • Patients report more significant pain relief than what is typically experienced with fusions.
  • The recovery is very quick. Most patients are back in a shoe within three weeks, rather than six.
  • Physical therapy is not usually required. Gentle stretching a few times a day can help prevent stiffness.
  • The failure rate is low at just 4 percent and this is usually due to the persistence of foot pain rather than a failure of the actual implant.
  • Insurance covers the cost of the new implant, which averages approximately $3,500 if paid out-of-pocket.

There are a few contraindications for this type of implant. It is not recommended for patients under 18 years of age or patients with rheumatoid arthritis, deformities or gout.

After the procedure, Snyder reported, “I have a lot of movement out of it, compared to the previous surgeries. I’m not quite up to running yet, but walking is still good, going up stairs is good. So, now that I can do that without pain, it’s just a huge change.”

Toe Implant Helps Active Grandfather Enjoy Life Again

This unique synthetic cartilage has already transformed many patients’ lives in the short time. Fox News reported on the story of 62-year-old Mickey Moylan, who underwent surgery at Rush Medical Center in Illinois. “Before surgery, I had just retired because of the pain,” he said. The pain was so debilitating and severe that even the weight of a bed sheet was agonizing.

Moylan received the Cartiva Synthetic Cartilage Implant. His surgeon was the first in the Midwest  to perform the procedure that some have called “a game changer.” The patient said the short recovery time and improved joint flexibility has helped him to remain an active grandfather who can continue to interact with his 12-year-old granddaughter. He called the procedure “a life changer” and indicated that he is now confident that he will remain active for years to come.

Are You a Candidate for Osteoarthritis Toe Surgery in NYC?

If you are located near NYC and would like to learn more about osteoarthritis toe implants and whether synthetic cartilage could be right for you, we invite you to reach out to the foot surgeons at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. We would love to meet you for an in-office consultation. For your convenience, you can now schedule an appointment online.

If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.