Podiatrist’s inventions could ease foot and big toe pain

"You definitely have to be forward thinking and not be afraid of innovation"

Three Sanford Health surgeons in protective gear look at a patient's foot together in an operation room.

A Sanford Health physician has invented three devices that could ease foot and toe pain caused by genetics, bad feet or shoddy footwear.

Tim Uglem, D.P.M., a podiatrist and chairman of foot and ankle surgery in Fargo, North Dakota, hopes to help the thousands of people who suffer from bunions, arthritis in the big toe and flat feet. He’s working with Sanford Health’s commercialization team to develop prototypes and market the technology. 

Bunion correction

Eighty-five percent of patients with bunions are women, Dr. Uglem said. That may be due to the type of shoes many women wear. But many of the 350,000 bunion surgeries in the U.S. annually are also the result of genetics. 

Dr. Uglem came up with a clamp to move bones in the big toe back into a good position after they become dislocated because of bunions. 

“We’re designing a clamp for procedures that corrects a deformity in not just one dimension but three dimensions. It’s kind of a new concept, a new idea as far as a clamp,” Dr. Uglem said.

Among the potential benefits: one surgeon could perform the procedure instead of two, and it may cost less and provide more flexibility compared to competing products. 

Toe alignment fix

Another common big toe ailment is arthritis. The most common procedure for dealing with it is to fuse the big toe joint. 

Dr. Uglem has invented an alignment plate that he said “could be used to help get the toe in position before the joint is fused.” 

Benefits include a less cumbersome way for the surgeon compared to alternative methods.  

Flat foot approach

A third common foot ailment Dr. Uglem treats is adult-acquired flat foot, which requires him to cut a tendon from deep inside the foot. 

“We’ve designed a tendon cutter that could make the procedure easier and faster with less dissection, which would then be less traumatic to harvest that tendon,” he said. 

Simplified procedures 

Dr. Uglem also serves as residency director and hopes these investigational devices help new physicians learn how to help patients, compared to the current practices. 

“You can see somebody else struggle who’s new and learning, and the idea of how can we make this easier to get that great result?”

Dr. Uglem grew up on a North Dakota farm and credits that upbringing with his efforts now to always strive to improve how he practices medicine to make it less expensive, faster and better for patients.

“I really think this all goes back to my roots and where I grew up, a little kid following my dad and uncle around on the farm and then coming up with ideas on how to fix a problem, how to make something easier with the farm equipment or around the house,” he said. “So that’s where, as you evolve, you’re doing these procedures, you’re thinking there’s got to be an easier way to do this and a way that we get more repeatable, good results.”

Sanford Health values the ideas and problem-solving ability of its physicians, researchers, clinical workers and support staff. Any employee with an idea for a device, therapy, software, tool or other method that helps patients is encouraged to contact the commercialization team and join the dozens of people at Sanford Health who are already inventing.

“You definitely have to be forward thinking and not be afraid of innovation,” Dr. Uglem said. “You have to be thinking constantly.”

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Posted In Fargo, Health Care Heroes, Innovations, Orthopedics

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