December 1, 2011

Foot and Ankle Center gets patients back on their feet

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Vanderbilt’s Foot and Ankle Center is equipped to provide a full spectrum of treatment. (iStock image)

Foot and Ankle Center gets patients back on their feet

The human foot and ankle has 26 bones and 22 joints, which bear all the body’s weight and allow us to walk, dance or juggle a soccer ball.
Caring for all of these delicate structures is the business of the Vanderbilt Foot and Ankle Center.

“If the foot or ankle is hurt, every step is painful. People don’t worry about their feet until there’s something wrong with them, but we’re here to fix that,” said Brian Thomson, M.D., assistant professor of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation and the center’s director.

Brian Thomson, M.D.

Brian Thomson, M.D.

With a team of two orthopaedic surgeons, two podiatrists and a nail care technician, the Foot and Ankle Center cares for a wide range of conditions, from routine nail care, bunions and hammertoes to arthritis, deformity and post-traumatic reconstructions.

“You won’t find any other place in Nashville where podiatrists work with orthopaedic surgeons, and that team approach allows us to provide the full spectrum of foot and ankle treatment. We can take care of simple things, but we can take care of the most complex problems,” Thomson said.

“We can handle anything that comes through,” added Bethany Gallagher, M.D., assistant professor of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation.

“We have shared expertise and are all very good at different things.”
One of the Foot and Ankle Center’s newest offerings is total ankle replacement, performed by Thomson and Gallagher.

Bethany Gallagher, M.D.

Bethany Gallagher, M.D.

Similar to a knee or hip replacement, this procedure reconstructs the ankle joint with a metal and plastic implant and relieves arthritis pain.

“It’s probably the most complicated of the joint replacements. We’re working with delicate bones and minute cuts, but the machining is more reliable now so the replacement goes in more predictably,” Thomson said.

Though ankle replacement is a cutting-edge treatment, an ankle fusion may still be a better option for arthritis pain, and the Foot and Ankle Center consults with each patient to chose the best treatment path.

“Because the ankle joint has limited motion, fusion is still a good, viable option. It relieves pain and leaves people with good function,” Thomson said.

“The important thing is that we appreciate the intricacies of foot and ankle deformity, can keenly explain the difference between the two procedures and decide on the course of action that is right for each individual person.”

The Foot and Ankle Center sees about 120 patients per week in its Medical Center East clinic, and the most common problems are arthritis, bunions, tendon issues and plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of connective tissue on the sole of the foot.

The center also performs many tendon repairs, corrects flat foot or high arches and treats sports injuries, like Achilles tendon ruptures and ankle ligament repairs.

For Thomson, correcting deformities – anything from bunions to an incorrectly healed fracture – is most rewarding.

“Deformity problems are magnified in the foot because of the load it has to bear,” Thomson said.

“When you do a deformity correction, you get instant gratification. You see the difference immediately in the operating room and the patient can see it in the clinic.”

For more information about the Foot and Ankle Center, visit