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New “non-surgical” treatment for Achilles problems?

April 25th, 2009

[UPDATED INFO HERE.] There’s a press release from the American Roentgen Ray Society (a.k.a. radiologists — “Roentgen ray” was the original name for X-rays) that has been making the rounds over the past few days, thanks to a fairly optimistic opening line:

Researchers have found an alternative, “non-surgical” method to treat chronic tendinosis (tendinitis) of the Achilles tendon that fails conservative treatment, according to a study performed at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University in Chicago, IL.

This, of course, would be great news, especially for the 10 to 15 percent of runners who may be affected by Achilles problems that don’t respond to the usual treatments. The new approach seems to be “ultrasound-guided Achilles debridement.” This is a little confusing, because debridement (removing the damaged tissue, and possibly making some incisions to stimulate the body’s natural repair processes) is (a) a well-established treatment for Achilles problems, and (b) generally considered a surgical procedure.

So what’s new here? Perhaps it’s a minimally invasive procedure, made possible by the ultrasonic guidance — though that still sounds like surgery to me. I’ve requested a copy of the full study, so that should answer these questions. In the meantime, the press release reports that about 60 percent of the 17 patients who underwent the procedure reported either marked improvement or complete disappearance of their symptons, so it’s worth keeping an eye on.

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