New Study Emphasizes Cryosurgery For Painful Foot Neuromas

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By Brian McCurdy, Associate Editor

Practitioners traditionally use cortisone or alcohol sclerosing injections, orthotics, surgery or other modalities to treat foot neuromas. Now you can also use precisely targeted ice injections as a minimally invasive surgical procedure for relieving painful neuromas in the foot. New research on this modality was recently reported at the Annual Meeting of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons (ACFAS).
Freezing these neuromas is proving very effective as an alternative to surgery for treating neuromas that fail conservative methods, according to study authors Lawrence Fallat, DPM, FACFAS and Eric Caporusso, DPM. In the study, Dr. Fallat used this procedure to treat 31 neuromas in 20 patients. All had failed conservative treatment and some had had unsuccessful neurectomies. The study authors evaluated the patients for one year, gauging pain ratings and patient satisfaction.
Eighty-three percent of the patients in the study said the cryosurgery provided significant pain relief, 39 percent said they were pain-free, and 90 percent said they would have the procedure performed again.
“Cryosurgery should be considered as a viable treatment for symptomatic neuromas of the lower extremity,” emphasizes Dr. Fallat. “It is fast and convenient and has no post-op disability.” He also adds that patients do not need stitches after the procedure.
So how does the procedure work? “With the advent of sophisticated gas expansion needles, we can freeze painful tissue with a 3-mm probe,” notes Dr. Fallat. He says during this six-minute procedure, which you can do in your office, nitrous oxide gas is passed and withdrawn through the probe tip to lower tissue temperature to minus 70ºC. A 5-mm ice ball that forms at the tip of the probe destroys the local nerve tissue.
There are a few caveats, though. Some patients in the study said they did not benefit from the procedure, but they all had a previous neurectomy. According to Dr. Fallat, scar tissue from those surgeries may have prevented complete penetration with the probe. Therefore, he says you should avoid using cryosurgery for these patients as the “freezeball” cannot penetrate the scar tissue.
While cryosurgery does not get rid of neuromas, it reduces patients’ sensitivity and makes the condition less painful, according to Dr. Fallat. He says patients “consider this a victory.”
“My overall assessment of the cryosurgery for neuromas is that it should be added to the list of acceptable treatments for this condition,” says Gary Dockery, DPM, the Founder and Director of the Northwest Podiatric Foundation for Education and Research. “However, it is still a surgical procedure, even if it’s listed as ‘minimally invasive surgery.’”
Dr. Dockery notes that chemical neurolysis provides more effective results in terms of “pain-free” patients. While the cryosurgery study found that 39 percent of the patients were pain-free after the procedure, Dr. Dockery notes that his 1999 study of chemical neurolysis found that 82 percent of his patients were pain-free.
Still, both Drs. Fallat and Dockery believe cryosurgery does provide another option in the arsenal for foot neuromas and should be considered before the more invasive neurectomy.
“The failure rate of neurectomy exceeds 20 percent, and neuromas can recur,” explains Dr. Fallat.

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