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Persistent and debilitating heel pain was ruining Curtis Sanow's active life. The land surveyor-in-training retreated to desk duty at work. During his honeymoon in a Mexican beach town, the newlywed was stuck poolside to avoid a painful flare-up and often wore a plastic orthopedic boot to dinner. "When I stepped, it felt like my Achilles was going to burst or tear," Sanow recalls. "But I said no matter what, in my wedding photos I would not have a boot on."
Sanow started feeling pain in his left Achilles tendon in June 2016. "I'd been playing a lot of softball and thought I'd bruised the back of my heel," says the former high school baseball player who was playing in three softball leagues. His job on a survey crew requires tramping through all kinds of terrain in all kinds of weather. "We find a lot of property corners," says the 35-year-old Brainerd resident. "It's a physical job and I carry a lot of heavy equipment. That took a toll."
When the heel pain persisted, Sanow went to Urgent Care and later to his doctor. When anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy didn't help, he turned to Dr. Jessica Tabatt, a podiatrist at the Essentia Health St. Joseph's-Brainerd Clinic. She ordered an MRI to see if he had torn his tendon. The MRI showed no damage and physical therapy wasn't helping so Dr. Tabatt continued to explore options. The pain last winter kept Sanow on the couch instead of at the gym. "When we went to Mexico for our wedding and honeymoon last January, I had to wear a boot," Sanow says. The boot is designed to immobilize the heel to help reduce pain and inflammation. Sanow limited his activities to avoid the boot during the day but wore it in the evening and at night.
In February, Dr. Tabatt referred Sanow to Dr. Nancy Henry-Socha, a pain specialist at the Brainerd Clinic. She explained he had a chronic injury in his tendon that couldn't heal because tendons don't have a good supply of blood like the muscles and bones they connect. She recommended a treatment called platelet-rich plasma (PRP). Using real-time ultrasound imaging to guide her to the injured area, the pain specialist would precisely inject plasma taken from Sanow's own blood into the tendon. The platelet-rich plasma would jump-start his body's own healing. "The platelets send chemical signals to start the healing here," she explains. Platelet-rich plasma can be injected into a tendon, joint or ligament to relieve pain. It's part of regenerative medicine, a practice that helps activate natural healing processes so patients can heal faster and better, Dr. Henry-Socha says.
"I was up for anything," Sanow says. "I had no reservations about being her first PRP patient in Brainerd. She made me feel at ease, and my wife feel at ease, about it." Pain relief is not immediate but comes as the tendon heals, which can take up to 12 weeks. Sanow says he was feeling better at two weeks and even better a month later, when he had a follow-up appointment. At 12 weeks, his pain was 95 percent gone. "If I walk all day, there's a little tenderness to the touch," he says. "A year ago, I would have been laying on the couch for a day." He's back in the field at work and enjoying other activities. He wishes platelet-rich plasma therapy would have been available in the Brainerd Lakes area when he first started feeling pain so he would have found relief sooner.