A Mysterious Foot Disease

March 13, 2017

A bone in my foot is dying! My doctor diagnosed me with early Freiberg’s disease and put me in a boot for six weeks to see if it heals or needs surgery. How could this happen? The only red flag was some pain and swelling under my second toe.

—Olivia, Los Angeles, CA

Obviously, it’s shocking to discover that a seemingly minor problem, like swelling, is a serious injury. Although the cause of Freiberg’s disease is unclear, it disrupts the circulation to the bone, resulting in necrosis, or death of the cells. Before you panic, you deserve major kudos for catching this problem early, especially since the initial symptoms are mild. A boot will hopefully encourage better circulation to the head of your metatarsal bone and give it a chance to heal (instead of dying and forming itself into softer bone that easily collapses). If it doesn’t heal, you’ll need surgery to alleviate the resulting pain, stiffness and deformity. Fortunately, removing the dead bone and reshaping the deformed joint doesn’t involve inserting a rod or implant, and the procedure has a high success rate. After surgery, you should be back to dancing within 8 to 12 weeks.

Send your questions to Dr. Linda Hamilton at [email protected].