Sixty-one-year-old Rock Island Arsenal employee, Rich Fuller, Bettendorf, still hits the ground running after nearly 45 years. The former Davenport Central track and cross-country state champion continued his running career as a Hawkeye, and to this day, he still gets in about 18-25 a miles a week.
“I’ve always loved running. It’s a great stress reliever and an important part of my life.” However over the decades, as Rich’s miles added up, the miles took their toll on both of his Achilles’ tendons, which became so inflamed they almost sidelined him.
“Rich was suffering from severe Achilles tendonitis in both ankles,” says his physician, ORA Orthopedics’ Podiatric Surgeon, Dr. Beau Shay. “There were no tears, but the inflammation was painful enough to keep him from running.”
After a course of conservative treatment such as rest, icing, and shoe inserts, the pain did not subside. It became clear Rich would need to consider more aggressive treatment options.
Dr. Shay says, in the past, cortisone injections would have likely been the next step, but instead, he recommended Rich consider a new procedure called Platelet Rich Plasma therapy or PRP. Dr. Shay says that because there were no tears in Rich’s tendons to warrant surgery, PRP could be more effective than cortisone shots.
“PRP is part of a new line of orthopedic treatments that uses a patient or donor’s plasma to stimulate healing tissue without surgery. It’s become popular because professional athletes are using it,” Dr. Shay explains. During a 10-15 minute office visit, Dr. Shay draws a small amount of Rich’s blood, puts it in a centrifuge that separates blood into plasma, and then injects the separated plasma into the affected tendon.
“The centrifuge breaks up the platelets and plasma and gets rid of other inflammatory cells, like white blood cells or other cells that create inflammation. The plasma is injected directly into the injured muscle or tendon where platelets release proteins that recruit stem cells and growth factors, thus fostering the healing process.
The therapy actually reduces the inflammation, not just masks the pain. For runners like Rich, this is a good option for those who suffer from plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis.”
While Rich’s injuries were caused by running, Dr. Shay says PRP can be used for other conditions such as muscle strains, ligament sprains or tears, tendon injuries, and arthritis. PRP injections help alleviate painful symptoms, promote healing, and may even delay joint replacement surgeries.
Dr. Shay injected each of Rich’s Achilles’ tendons, as well as a second round on his right ankle. Following the procedure, Rich wore a boot for about a month. He also stretched, walked, and rode his bike for a second month. He slowly returned to running at the 8-week mark, and in general, Dr. Shay says it can take about three months for the body to fully respond.
One year later, Rich is back in action with no pain. He is considering another injection in his left tendon, but is pleased with the results. “Dr. Shay was excellent. Surgery on the Achilles is very serious and is the last resort for me. PRP is a great option.”
While Rich has already run five half-marathons and two full marathons, he’s got a few more on his bucket list including a marathon at Walt Disney World, if he’s healed and ready for more aggressive training. “I will wait and see if I need a second injection, but it’s been so great to be out and running recreationally, if not competitively.”
“It’s a satisfying experience when a patient does well,” Dr. Shay concluded. “That’s why we’re all in orthopedics. We want to help, and Rich is such a great example of how PRP and exercise can improve one’s quality of life. There’s no age limit to being fit and strong.”
Happy trails, Rich.
Watch ORA’s Dr. Beau Shay explain
this new procedure on WQAD-TV.