Avera Medical Minute: Great toe fusion surgery helps relieve pain for Sioux Falls woman

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Updated: May. 30, 2021 at 8:00 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - When you think of arthritis, the hand and wrist usually come to mind. However, arthritis can also occur in the foot and cause folks a lot of pain to walk. One Sioux Falls woman is now pain-free after undergoing surgery through Avera Orthopedics.

Step by step Kathlyn Drexler is learning what it’s like to walk pain-free. Something she hasn’t known for over six years.

“I was in a pretty bad wreck a number of years ago and I had multiple injuries, but the worst one was to my right great toe and the injury involved impaction of the joints,” said Drexler.

The injury began to affect her everyday life.

“I loved just taking long walks and running and jogging and playing outside and being active outside. And I just slowly got away from that and ultimately it came down to realizing that I couldn’t even do daily simple things like go up and downstairs, walk short distances without even saying ‘ow, ow, ow’ every step,” said Drexler.

“You can’t live every day with that much distracting pain,” she added.

So she met with Avera Podiatrist Dr. Brian Dix.

“If we look at the end toe joint here you can see where there’s black, that’s cartilage. And before surgery here, there’s virtually no black cartilage left. So she has bone-on-bone arthritis in her big toe joint,” said Dr. Brian Dix, Avera Orthopedics Podiatrist.

“The great toe is the most common area to develop arthritis in the foot. So it is fairly common. I’d say I probably see a couple of patients every week that have arthritis in their great toe,” he added.

He concluded that a great toe fusion procedure would be the best option

Surgery is something Drexler is very familiar with. However, this time was different. She’s usually on the other side of the operating table as a hand surgeon.

“It’s a lot harder being on the side of the patient, it really is because there is that unknown. Am I really going to be able to have the function that I want again? It’s scary. Surgery on the patient side is scary,” said Drexler.

However, she felt better knowing her colleague Dr. Dix was the one doing the operation.

“I see his good outcomes and we share multiple patients in different scenarios. So I know he has great outcomes, he’s a great person. I completely trust his work,” said Drexler.

It’s now been six months since Drexler underwent the procedure.

“We put a plate and screws in here. With the screw going across the joint and fused the joint so it doesn’t move anymore. Now, so it doesn’t move anymore, then she doesn’t have pain because it’s one solid joint that’s fused across the great toe joint,” said Dr. Dix.

“Four to six weeks after I was walking around just fine in a boot and transitioned back to regular shoes and the pain never came back. It’s gone now and I mean gone, gone. More than I would have expected even from my own academic understanding of fusions. I didn’t expect it to be this good,” said Drexler.

Due to the nature of this surgery, Drexler doesn’t have full movement in her toe.

“She’s able to move the toe at the end joint, but not at the bigger joint where there’s arthritis in it,” said Dr. Dix.

However, that hasn’t hindered her from getting back to doing what she loves.

“Haven’t found anything I can’t do except wear high heels and let’s be honest I didn’t do that anyway. So it’s life-changing in a very positive way,” said Drexler.

“I wouldn’t have waited this long if I had known that my function would be just fine and there would be no pain at all,” she added.

Drexler encourages others in her position to see a doctor immediately.

“Pain is not worth it. Don’t hold onto the pain. Get rid of the joint. Lose the pain. Get your life back,” said Drexler.

For more information on toe fusion surgery head to Avera.org.

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