Radio Frequency Ablation- Plantar Fasciitis Treatment

After one of the most disappointing seasons of my 19-year running career, I decided to look into more drastic forms of treatment for the plantar fasciitis I’ve been tolerating for close to 4 years. I have become a pro at taping and icing. I have had 2 different sets of custom orthotics (and a couple over the counter pairs), 3 rounds of Shock Wave Therapy (3 sessions for each round) from ’07-’09, 2 shots of a light steroid with an anti-inflammatory, religious usage of the Strassburg Sock and countless massages. What else could I do? Surgery?

The Plantar Fasciitis began affecting other parts of my body last year. For example, I got a stress fracture in my 4th metatarsal in late March of ’08, (perfect timing for my Olympic berth goal) due to overcompensating. I had also been struggling with tight hamstrings and a sore knee since February of 2009. This put me in a difficult situation once track came around. My goal since 8th grade has always been to make a US team. After a successful 2008 season (6th at the Olympic Trials- yes, even after the stress fracture and 5 weeks in the pool), I felt that my shot of making the US team traveling to Berlin was tangible. But, with the extra pain I was experiencing during every run, my coach had to tweak my workouts. I never achieved the sharpness that I needed to be competitive at the USA Track and Field Championships in Eugene. Sure, I made the final of the steeplechase, but I was nowhere near striking distance.

I found that there were options that I hadn’t considered- options other than surgery. A friend told me about Platelet Derived Growth Therapy, which is pretty expensive and still in its infancy. The other procedure I learned about was Radio Frequency Ablation (RFA). After speaking with my coach, Joe Rubio, and few doctors, I chose the RFA route. This was the least evasive and less expensive option of the three. I figured that since I probably spent about as much purchasing tape and other items for treatment, the $400-$600 that the RFA procedure would cost was about the same amount. Besides, what did I have to lose?

Dr. Richie at the Seal Beach Podiatry Group is one of the first doctors to use radiofrequency to treat Plantar Fasciitis. I saw him on Tuesday, July 14th. He has had an 80% success rate, so the odds of a successful procedure are in my favor. Dr. Richie did inform me that RFA would not alleviate 100% of the pain, but a good 90%. I think I can live with the extra 10%.

RF Therapy uses radiofrequency energy to disrupt nerve function. When this is done to a peripheral nerve, such as that found in the foot, the nerve can no longer transmit pain from the site. The nerves that are treated with RFA are not permanently damaged, however. A local anesthetic was applied to my heel, and then a needle about 3 inches or so was inserted into the side of my heel. A probe was then inserted into the needle, which transmits radiofrequency heat (like microwave heat) to the tip that ultimately damages the nerve. This procedure was repeated in three different places in my heel.

The third part in my heel was a bit tricky for Dr. Richie. He had to reinsert the needle into my heel. The problem was that he couldn’t get the needle in easily, due to the rigidity and thickness of my fascia. Eight years of steeplechasing and landing on my (preferred) right foot had caused a lot of scar tissue to develop. I wasn’t in any pain, but watching him trying to insert the needle was disturbing. I could feel the pressure and I could see the struggle and I wanted to say, “Forget it. I don’t need the last shot.”

I won’t know if the procedure is successful for another week or so. My foot is still a little tender five days later, but I have complete faith that Dr. Richie’s talent will allow me to be the runner I was last year… and the competitor I know I can be on the International level for years to come. It’s hard to feel the love for something you have had so much passion for when every step is painful. I think I’m on the right track to feeling that love again and that RFA was the better decision.

Check back for an update next week.

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