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Health: Local docs share details, solutions regarding foot, ankle pain

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Dr. Ronald Derr and Dr. Geoff Watson, foot and ankle specialists and board-certified orthopedic surgeons with the Bone and Joint Institute of Tennessee, recently sat down to answer questions from the community.

What is a misconception people have about what you do?

Derr: I think the biggest misconception is people assume if they have a foot and ankle issue, they have to see a podiatrist and not an orthopedic physician. 

Our goal is to get the word out that orthopedic surgeons do take care of foot and ankle issues. We do forefoot surgery, like bunions and hammertoes, as well as broken ankles or reconstructive surgery from issues like arthritis.

Q: What are the common issues you deal with?

Watson: Some of the common things we treat are foot issues, like bunions and hammertoes. We do these often and feel they are a very productive way to get people back to doing activities they want to do. We also deal with many kinds of arthritis, from the big toe to the mid-foot to the ankle. 

We can handle arthritis treatment in a variety of ways. We generally start with conservative measures, like injections or shoe-wear modifications, and then move to surgery when necessary. We deal with a lot of injuries as well, from ankle sprains and Achilles tendon ruptures to fractures.

Derr: We also take care of a lot of sports-related injuries, and each of us here at the Bone and Joint Institute is associated with one of the local high schools. 

Caring for athletes becomes part of our routine care, too. Whether it’s a weekend athlete who is just out enjoying activities or an industrial athlete, like a workers’ comp injury, or professional athletes who make the headlines, we care for all active individuals. 

What is your goal for patients?

Derr: Our goal in orthopedics is to keep people active. Stretching, strengthening and maintaining your activity at a high level is really what we’re after. The biggest part of what we do is educate patients on how to get better from their injury or condition, and also try to prevent that injury from coming back. 

Ideally, our goal would be to prevent anything from becoming an issue in the first place. We know, with lack of mobility, that’s where people start to fail physically, so our goal is to prevent that from happening.

When do I need to visit an orthopedic specialist versus a general practice physician?

Watson: For acute injury, if you’re having trouble walking, you want to see an orthopedic surgeon. It also depends on what’s going on and how long it’s been going on. 

If it’s a repetitive issue, it’s probably time to see one of us. If it’s something relatively new, specifically heel pain, like plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis, that’s generally something your primary care doctor can handle first, and then we can help with a backup plan afterward. 

We have an after-hours injury clinic as well that’s open Monday through Thursday 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon. That’s a huge advantage, especially during football season.

What are your tips for preventing foot and ankle injuries?

Derr: I’m a big believer in trying to educate people that pain in their feet can be caused by issues in other parts of the leg. Especially with heel pain, plantar fasciitis and forefoot pain, a tight calf muscle or a tight Achilles tendon can be the primary reason they’re dealing with pain in their feet.

I also try and spend more time educating patients that we focus on treating the underlying cause as well as the area that hurts. If you spend time helping them understand the connection, they’re more likely to stick with a preventive program to try to get through that issue and prevent it from coming back.

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