Physician's Corner: Dr. Leonard Vekkos
Foot & Ankle Wellness Center at Seven Bridges
We had the pleasure of sitting down with Dr Leonard Vekkos to discuss how he found his life's passion and learn more about his podiatry practice. His practice is the Foot & Ankle Wellness Center at Seven Bridges in Woodridge, Illinois.
Achieve: Explain to our readers why you decided to make Podiatry your life’s passion.
Dr. Vekkos: My introduction to Podiatry is an interesting story. Since high school, a career in medicine was always my goal, but Podiatry, as a profession, was not on my radar. While attending college in a pre-medical education tract, I included as part of my educational process, arranging to shadow different specialties in medicine. I wanted to learn as much as possible what I might expect if I chose a specialty. I did rotations through the offices of family practice physicians, general surgeons, orthopedic surgeons, and several other specialties.
One weekend I went home to visit my family and my mother was scheduled to go to a podiatrist to have some minor foot surgery. I decided to keep her company. It was during the visit to this podiatrist, Dr. Stanley David, that my interest was piqued as I watched him perform minor surgery on my mother and then treat some other patients. He found that I was fascinated by his practice and I ended up shadowing him for an entire week. It was during this time I fell in love with the practice of Podiatry. I found it to be a profession where I could help people within the course of one office visit, treat both children and seniors alike, perform surgery as a specialty and provide financial stability for myself and my future family. At the end of that one week of shadowing, I decided to pursue Podiatry as a career. Therefore, you could say that Podiatry found me, not the other way around. I have always been grateful to Dr. Stanley David for helping to forge my future and have never looked back.
Achieve: What sets your practice apart from other Podiatry centers?
Dr. Vekkos: When I established the Foot and Ankle Wellness Center, it has always been an important component of our philosophy to be on the cutting edge of technology, both to support and continually grow our office as well in the treatment and care of our patients. Our office employs the latest in electronic medical documentation, offers on-site diagnostic ultrasound, utilizes digital x-rays for speed and convenience and more recently, has introduced a state-of-the-art MLS laser technology which has been instrumental in offering noninvasive therapy for the primary treatment of foot and ankle conditions and as an additional modality for postoperative recovery. We are also outfitted with an operatory suite to provide a lower cost alternative and convenience for those patients that may require surgical intervention.
We have also incorporated into our practice environment a family-oriented approach which, in a professional setting, also encourages openness and inclusiveness for all patients and their entire families. We welcome crying babies, understand the interruptions of cell phone calls during visits because of the importance of family communication, support the presence of service animals which play an important role in some of our patients’ lives and our entire staff is always ready to address patient’s concerns as expediently as possible. I also make it as part of my philosophy in the treatment of patients to be as accessible as possible.
Achieve: How important is early intervention in someone with flat feet? high arch?
Dr. Vekkos: People who suffer with either flat feet or high arch feet will have similar complaints and some stark differences in their symptoms. In both instances, each foot type is a very poor absorber of shock. Our foot functions as a shock absorber as it helps in promoting walking forward. The lack of shock absorption results in the transmission of stress and pressure up through the ankles and all the way up to the neck. It is not uncommon for patients with either flat feet or high arch feet to experience knee pain, hip pain, low back pain and/or neck pain.
Because we are born with certain foot structures that are both congenital and inherited, early diagnosis and intervention are important to help prevent or minimize formation of deformity and/or development of painful conditions. With flat feet, it is not uncommon for patients present with heel pain, arch pain, bunions, hammertoes, and tight Achilles tendons. A high arch foot presents with a myriad of its own symptoms such as heel pain, pain on the ball of the feet, instability in the foot and ankle, hammertoe deformities that are more rigid in nature, difficulty with shoes because of bony prominences on the top of the foot and difficulty finding shoes that fit appropriately.
Early intervention in these situations becomes important because such intervention is usually conservative in nature. Use of custom molded orthotics and evaluation and treatment through physical therapy can help significantly to reduce if not resolve symptoms and prevent problems in the future. I encouraged parents to bring their children in for an evaluation and x-rays. This is especially important in situations where there may be flat feet and/or high arch feet in the family as this can be carried down through generations. It is also not uncommon for parents or grandparents to notice that the children “walk funny” even though they may not have any complaints of pain. Bringing children in at an early age and result in early diagnosis and treatment especially in cases where there may not be any symptoms.
Achieve: Reconstructive surgery is one of your specialties and one that has helped so many patients over the years. What new advances or research is out there that many people may not be aware of who may also be leery of pursuing the surgical path for their pain?
Dr. Vekkos: I think it is important for patients to realize that many conditions presenting in my office can be addressed through conservative measures. Additionally, there are very few foot and ankle conditions that are not elective in nature. I used the term elective cautiously because it can be interpreted differently by patients depending on the specific condition they are dealing with. Suffice to say, every attempt is made to address foot conditions in a conservative manner. Today advances have been made in the use and manufacturing of custom molded orthotics and support devices as well as new techniques in physical therapy and rehabilitation to address foot mechanics and gait patterns. If surgical intervention is determined to be indicated, then detailed discussion between the physician and patient and/or parents with outlining approaches and techniques that may be utilized to address their specific condition.
There have been many advances, the discussion of which would need to be dressed in a separate article, that have improved not only correction but the recovery of patients going through such reconstructive surgeries. Bottom line, if such surgical reconstruction is needed, significant advances in surgical technique that have been developed offered today’s patient significant advantages.
Achieve: How do you vary your approach based upon a patient’s activity load? General athlete, dancer, runner, and non-athlete patients?
Dr. Vekkos: This is an important question. For the same foot and/or ankle condition, the approach can vary significantly depending upon many factors. Is the patient a nonathlete, a weekend athlete or a competitive participant who may be looking to pursue a college, and/or professional career in his or her sport?
The approach to documenting complaints, making the diagnosis and determining a treatment plan is followed whether I am dealing with a weekend athlete or competitive participant. However, with the exact same diagnosis, a treatment plan can vary significantly between these two types of patients. This becomes extremely important because the goals of each type of patient will vary significantly. As a result, when it comes to the activity load that will be assigned, there can be significant variations when determining the return to a casual sport activity versus competitive participation.
It is important patients understand that this two-tiered approach allows the relationship between the physician and either patient type to align most closely with the patient’s goals. In treatment of my athletic patients, the most difficult part of the recovery process is preventing them from doing more than they are permitted because of their significant desire to get back to competitive levels as soon as possible. But this desire is an extremely important aspect to take into consideration as a treating physician. It is important that either type of patient understand my goals for them are aligned as closely as possible with theirs.
Achieve: How have physical therapy and the inclusion of using an AlterG Anti-gravity treadmill helped your patients to progress? Why do you suggest it for your patients?
Dr. Vekkos: Ever since I have been in practice, I have always stressed the importance of physical therapy in the recovery of my patients whether athletic or nonathletic. The recovery of a patient after either an injury or surgical intervention is significantly enhanced with a formal and regimented physical therapy routine. I explain to my patients who may require surgical intervention that physical therapy is a critical and integral part of the recovery process.
Ever since I started practice in 1984, physical therapy has been an extremely important treatment modality utilized in the recovery of patients who have been injured or undergone surgery. The advances in physical therapy techniques have significantly accelerated the healing process of my patients. Such physical therapy needs to involve not only exercises for strengthening and stability, but also hands-on treatment to encourage soft tissue healing and ranges of motion of joints.
What has made the most significant impact in my patients’ recovery is the use of the AlterG Anti-gravity treadmill. I was introduced to this treatment modality when I first became associated with the Achieve Sports Medicine. Achieve has been a tremendous and important aspect in my patient’s recovery and incorporating the AlterG has become a critical component for treatment. It allows for the patient to begin weightbearing at a much earlier point in the recovery process because of the ability of the AlterG to control the percentage of body weight that is applied to the foot. This is extremely important because it allows us to have the patient begin those activities necessary to keep joints loose while protecting any surgical correction or the recovery process of an injured ankle or foot. I have also found that it has contributed to a more positive outlook from my patients because they are actively involved in the recovery process.
We are extremely pleased that Achieve has made a commitment to build out office space in our building with access to all their physical therapy regimens. They will also install a third AlterG anti-gravity treadmill at this location. This location will make a very significant contribution by offering geographical access for those patients who may find this more convenient for physical therapy rehabilitation.
Additionally, I am currently working with a physical therapist at Achieve developing specific protocols for treatment regimens in alignment with my philosophy of patient recovery. This offers the next level in physician-therapist communication to ensure patients are receiving a treatment program in alignment with patient goals. It places me and the physical therapist in the same mindset with the ability to discuss any changes in the treatment plan on a more detailed level. This type of relationship is extremely beneficial for the recovery of our patients.
To learn more about Dr. Vekkos' practice or to schedule a visit, please visit his website: