More and more medical procedures can be undergone using non-invasive surgical techniques (preferred by many patients and doctors alike). In this world of wondrous medical technological breakthroughs there are many conditions that can be treated without ever breaking the skin. Heel pain is the primary reason people seek medical attention from a foot specialist. Roughly five million Americans are undergoing treatment for plantar fasciitis or heel pain. One of the most pedestrian of all disorders, plantar fasciitis, can be treated using sound waves. But these are not just any random noises applied to an injured body part – the sound waves needed to treat plantar fasciitis are ultrasonic. The treatment is called extracorporeal shock wave therapy (or ESWT for short).
Plantar fasciitis is an inflammatory disorder that occurs usually on the bottom of the human foot. The condition occurs in inflamed tissues beneath the skin’s surface in the arch anywhere along a line from the heel to the toes. Most people develop a plantar’s wart, a telltale sign of plantar fasciitis. The “wart’ is not like what is called the “common” wart (usually found on hands, and caused by viruses). The plantar’s wart is a callous growth created by the body in response to a tissue inflammation usually at the head of a foot-bone joint where the bone is perhaps prolapsed. It is usually a pea-sized or marble-sized mass beneath the skin, and walking on it can produce pain equivalent to stepping on a rock in a shoe (a stone bruise).
Many non-surgical treatment methods can be used to varying degrees of efficacy. Custom orthotics (to accommodate the plantar’s wart or the bursa from plantar fasciitis) can be worn. Reducing physical activities is another way to scale back on exacerbating pain, but this can cause weight gain in many people. Cortisone injections, over-the-counter and prescription anti-inflammatory medications may help. Physical therapy, including immobilization with a walking boot and cast, is also an effective method for controlling the pain of plantar fasciitis. What is called a “night splint” (which immobilizes the foot to keep the arch from contracting during the night) can help with pain as well.
However, these are all treatments for the symptom (pain) and not the problem (plantar fasciitis). That normally requires surgery, a procedure called percutaneous plantar fasciotomy (excising the plantar’s wart or calloused tissue and shaving down the bone beneath the growth to prevent recurrence). An alternative, extracorporeal shock wave therapy for plantar fasciitis, was introduced to the US in 2000 (it had been used in Europe fully a decade before). High-energy ESWT for plantar fasciitis can reduce the pain of the condition from 80% up to 88%. Using electro-hydraulic shockwaves, applied to the foot in sessions averaging 2,500 pulses of high-energy sound waves led to remarkable results in test studies. Among 40 feet using this treatment method, 82% of those subjects were pain-free after about 8 months (compared with 83% of those using the more traditional surgical technique, percutaneous plantar fasciotomy). ESWT certainly was a very favorable outcome for a procedure in which the skin was not breached.
Because the treatment uses only sound waves there are no risks for allergic reactions to medications or to anesthesia. The treatments are done on an outpatient basis. Consider this course if suffering from this condition – sound waves may be as effective as traditional surgery. ESWT would certainly not have the same lengthy recovery time.