Primum non nocere (first do no harm)

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Dr. Rock G. Positano holding on to the author’s feet.

My grandmother always told me to take care of my teeth and my feet. Now I know of what she spoke.

I was told by Dr. Rock G. Positano that my issues with my tendons in my feet and ankles are a combination of high arches, my own mechanical walking, and genetics. To have burning tendons that then require rest is not in my wheelhouse. I am an active person. These temperamental tendons are cramping my style.

I hobbled over to the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) and the excellent care of Dr. Positano, Founder and Co-Director of the Non-Surgical Foot and Ankle Service and the Joe DiMaggio Heel Pain Center.

The HSS has been a leader in non-surgical orthopedic healthcare, helping cure countless patients. Dr. Positano has published acclaimed textbooks and has been featured in medical books and articles on preventive foot health, including a recent New York Times article discussing the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the human foot.

It was in this article that he coined the phrase “pandemic foot” after seeing foot pain increase in many patients due to the pandemic, which caused many to adjust their walking and standing patterns. The doctor saw an increase in patients suffering from pain in their heels and Achilles tendons. He says in the article, “People don’t realize how much mileage they put on walking and standing in their houses.”

He had previously been mentioned in the Times’ Sunday edition, in a front-page story highlighting the dangers of cosmetic foot surgery, noting that the vanity-driven goal of many ended up doing more harm than good to their musculoskeletal make-up.

Click to order.

One of the doctor’s most notable cures was that of Joe DiMaggio, Yankee legend. DiMaggio’s record-breaking career was notoriously cut short due to a botched heel surgery, forcing him into early retirement. This fateful surgery that not only led Mr. DiMaggio to him but was a catalyst for the Yankee Clipper to advocate for non-surgical care in foot and ankle musculoskeletal orthopedics.

Once Mr. DiMaggio’s heel spur was cured, the same injury noted in Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea, DiMaggio remarked that had he met Dr. Positano fifty years earlier, he would have been able to continue to play the game he loved.

DiMaggio believed this so strongly that he took his shoe and sock off in Yankee owner George Steinbrenner’s owner’s box at Yankee Stadium to display his heel spur scar. DiMaggio’s relationship with the doctor is further explored in Positano’s book, Dinner with DiMaggio: Memories of An American Hero.

There was another influence in the creation of the doctor’s practice at HSS. The other individual? Leonardo Da Vinci was astonished that such a small part of the skeleton, consisting of 26 bones, had the responsibility of carrying a human body for its entire lifetime. His anatomical and mechanical drawings of the human foot gave the doctor the main impetus for developing biomechanical care rather than surgical treatments.

He realized while studying Da Vinci’s work that “joint preservation is key,” and surgery of the foot and ankle always presents a certain risk. “With foot and ankle surgery, you could do a textbook perfect surgery,” he says, “but there is no guarantee the foot will work the same way. You don’t want to take a part of the body that is working and change it.”

The doctor’s confidence that most foot and ankle problems can be solved without surgery has prompted interest from all over the globe; his patients travel from the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. He treats professional athletes, CEOs, members of the medical community, weekend warriors, heads of state, notable film, television and music personalities, and a large part of the New York and Beverly Hills elite.

His professional mantra is, “Foot and ankle problems may not be life-threatening, but they can be ‘lifestyle threatening’. They can affect a person’s ability to exercise, play sports, or even walk.” I am a perfect example of this.

As a teenager, Dr. Positano’s son, Dr. Rock CJay, observed and assisted his father after school. At the Yale School of Public Health, he launched a heel pain study, “Correlation of Radiographic Criteria & Diagnostic Ultrasound for Heel & Rear Foot Pain.” Because he believes so strongly in his father’s cause for non-surgical intervention, now he’s a recent graduate of the Yale School of Public Health, and is joining HSS as co-director of the Non-Surgical Foot and Ankle Service and the Joe DiMaggio Heel Pain Center.

Father and son Positano.

The Positanos — pere and spare — not only show expertise in such an important part of the human body, but show great care and success in affirming that their patients won’t have to go through the further pain of surgery to become well once more. Drs. Rock G. and Rock CJay Positano are proud to direct a center that had Joe DiMaggio’s seal of approval, and has a message that Da Vinci would have proudly supported, both scientifically and philosophically too: Primum non nocere (first do no harm).

You can find more information on Dr. Positano and his work at HSS here.

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