Absorbable screws used in foot surgery

August 8, 2013

Sheree Marsh of Bensalem, Pa. was headed downstairs at her home one morning when she missed the last step.

"Everything cracked," she said. "It was... I could feel it. It was like a bag of potato chips going, and then I just hit the ground."

Sheree had seriously injured her Lisfranc ligament. It's the band of tissue connecting the middle bones of the foot.

"It's really important in terms of allowing your foot to move, walk, function, propel itself," said Dr. Jamal Ahmad of the Rothman Institute. "It also helps maintain some of that arch shape to your foot."

Lisfranc injuries are common in sports like football and basketball, where there are quick foot twists and pivots.

But Dr. Ahmad says he's seeing more of them among weekend warriors and non-athletes.

The standard repair is surgery to implant a screw which holds the bones together so the ligament heals.

But stainless steel screws can pose problems.

"That can cause joint damage and joint pain afterward," said Dr. Ahmad. "Those steel screws can break."

And most patients need a second surgery, to remove the screw.

So instead of steel, Dr. Ahmad has been studying a screw the body will absorb.

"They've been used in other body parts like the shoulder, the ankle, the elbow," he said.

Sheree's foot was repaired several years ago, as part of Dr. Ahmad's study. Today, you can barely see where the surgery was.

And her latest x-ray shows just a shadow where the screw went through the bones. She's now back to coaching swimming, and in the gym every day.

"It's like it didn't happen," she said.

Dr. Ahmad recently presented a study on the absorbable screws. It shows they held up as well as steel, with no breakage and less irritation.

Patients are also happy to have less risk and not face a second costly operation.

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