Alcohol for the foot: Medical treatment helps alleviate pain

By Rob Earnshaw

Times Correspondent | Monday, September 01, 2008 |

The relatively painless procedure of giving a injection of alcohol in the foot has been “out for a few years,” according to Dr. Michael Nirenberg, podiatrist for Crown Point’s Friendly Foot Care, but like anything else new in medicine it starts slow by testing the waters to see how people do with it.

Nirenberg has been giving the shot for several years but has seen a growth because of its good results. A new podiatrist at Friendly Foot Care, Dr. Michael G. Lacey, has performed the procedure for the last seven years in Chicago.

The doctors stress that the injection is not for everybody.

“Some people may still need a small surgical procedure,” Nirenberg said.

“Others don’t need a shot or surgery, but may require a custom-made arch support. But for those who do — it’s better than surgery.” Patients typically receive four to seven injections over a period of four to six weeks. Those treated don’t have to stop their activities or miss a day of work. Patients also need not rest or soak their feet afterwards, they can drive straight home and go for a jog.

The shot itself, which “kills” the neuroma, only takes a few seconds.

“We’ll use a diagnostic ultrasound to confirm where the neuroma is at but a lot of times we don’t need it,” Nirenberg said.

He said most insurance companies cover the injection because they recognize the benefit of having a person get a shot as opposed to surgery.

Without surgery, of course, a patient avoids any possible complications that go with it like scar tissue or infection. Surgery would also likely mean a six-to-eight-week recovery period.

Valparaiso’s Leigh Romanov had the treatment done on her right foot, now she’s doing the same for her left one.

“The shots don’t hurt at all,” she said. “I feel like I have my feet again.”

Surgery was Romanov’s only other option. Her feet tingled so much she had to give up running. It got to a point where walking barefoot caused pain.

“I’m running now, it was fantastic,” she said. “It takes about five to six (injections) to notice a difference, but it’s pain free.”

A shot of alcohol — or more specifically, an injection of alcohol — could alleviate a painful nerve problem that occurs in the ball of the foot and affects millions of Americans. For many patients, this alcohol injection is an alternative to surgery.

“We’re saving people from going under the knife,” said Dr. Michael Nirenberg of Crown Point’s Friendly Foot Care.

Getting on the nerves

Dr. Lou Santangelo, chief resident of podiatry at Chicago’s Norwegian American Hospital, has been giving the alcohol injections for the past few years. Santangelo, who is currently working out of Lansing Foot and Ankle Center, provides the injection for both patients suffering from neuroma and those with nerve entrapment, in which the nerve becomes irritated because of scar tissue in the area.

“Some people would prefer to take the nerve out,” Santangelo said. “But that’s a surgical procedure n so this is a way to avoid surgery but still give the patient relief. It works pretty well.”

There are other types of foot injections to relieve pain as well.

Dr. Armand Gasbarro, who’s operated Lansing Foot and Ankle Clinic in downtown Lansing for 48 years, said patients who suffer from general inflammation may require a steroid injection.

“It reduces the inflammation,” Gasbarro said.

This type of injection also reduces a patient’s pain following surgery.

“It diminishes post-operative pain tremendously,” Gasbarro said.

SOURCE: Times Newspaper, Sept 1, 2008.


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