Home / Duke Basketball / Duke Basketball: Why all the Foot Injuries?

Duke Basketball: Why all the Foot Injuries?

(Photo: Mark Dolejs, USA TODAY Sports)
(Photo: Mark Dolejs, USA TODAY Sports)

It is generally accepted that, in order of frequency, the most common competitive basketball injuries are ankle sprains, finger jams, muscle sprains/pulled muscles, overuse injuries such as tendonitis, eye injuries, and knee injuries. I’m not sure exactly where broken foot bones would fall in this list, but they are not typically the most common injuries, though the constant stopping, twisting, jerking, leaping, and racing would surely have tremendous impact on the foot and ankle.

It appears that Duke basketball has experienced more than its share of foot-related injuries. This was actually recognized by Duke medical experts as far back as 2004. Dr. Joseph Guettler formally researched possible causes when he was a sports medicine fellow at Duke. The research was done in conjunction with Claude Moorman, director of sports medicine at Duke and senior member of the research team. At least four other distinguished doctors were involved. The committee’s foundational observations were that “these stress fractures of the fifth metatarsal are a prevalent and potentially devastating injuries suffered by elite basketball players and they appear to occur as a result of the repetitive stresses…the fractures are tiny, but over time they can coalesce into one large fracture.”

Their published conclusions were released on March 13, 2004. In brief, they reported that the solution “may be as simple as adding additional arch support to athletic shoes.” This countered a belief by shoe manufacturers that high arch support could actually cause these foot fractures.  Guettler and company stated that the support “would appear to relieve the constant stresses and pressures suffered by the fifth metatarsal, a bone on the outside of the mid-foot between the ankle bone and the small toe.”

I know nothing about basketball foot injuries. I have read that abnormal foot alignment, and bio-mechanical weakness or imbalance can be corrected by professionally designed shoes and shoe inserts which redistribute the body’s weight evenly on the foot and ankle. However, as has become obvious to any astute observer, the Duke basketball foot injuries did not dissipate following this 2004 medical study. As recently as February 28, 2013 Al Featherston wrote in an article titled The Parade of Injuries:  “Duke has had a number of foot injuries. But is it unusually bad luck or just an unfortunate roll of the dice of fate? Is something more sinister going on?”

Below you will find a chronological list of the foot- or ankle-related injuries Duke basketball players have experienced in recent years:

  • To my knowledge, the injuries may have started with Bobby Hurley back in February, 1992 when he suffered a broken bone in his right foot. David Teel of the Daily Press reported that it was a break in the second metatarsal bone.

  • For Chris Collins, the injury was sustained on the first day of practice in 1995.  He was running a fast break, he jumped to get a rebound and he landed on the side of his foot. He heard something crumble—it sounded like celery crunching. It turned out to be a “Jones” fracture, the fifth metatarsal bone that would later sideline players such as Elton Brand and Carlos Boozer.

  • Yes, it was Elton Brand who was next to experience the same injury. He broke the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot in practice on December 27, 1998.  He couldn’t play again for eight weeks.

  • Carlos Boozer fractured the fifth metatarsal bone in a foot in 1999 before he began his first season at Duke.   Then on February 15, 2001, Boozer suffered another injury, this time to the third metatarsal in his right foot during the Blue Devils’ 91-80 loss to Maryland.

  • Though the injury was slightly different, Shavlik Randolph missed the final six games of his freshman season in 2003 with two sprained ankles.

  • Reggie Love, a very popular reserve basketball player, broke the fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot in the first half of a game against Clemson on January 2, 2005. He also missed 6-8 weeks of basketball.

  • In 2006, Greg Paulus broke his fifth metatarsal foot bone in the team’s second official practice of his sophomore year. He underwent postseason surgery to repair the injury that plagued him all season.

  • Martynas Pocius, the Lithuanian guard, experienced ankle injuries throughout his sophomore season, missing four games. The ankle injuries apparently did not heal sufficiently during the off-season and he suffered a season-ending ankle injury only four games into his junior season.  He had surgery on the left ankle on January 8, 2008.

  • During a pick up game on July 9, 2007, Brian Zoubek suffered a fifth metatarsal fracture in his left foot and was out of commission until early fall. In January of 2008, he broke his left foot again because doctors said that the foot had not fully healed. He had surgery again in the off-season.

  • In December, 2010, freshman point guard, Kyrie Irving experienced a right toe ligament injury in the second half of a game against Butler in Duke’s ninth game of the season. He did not play again until an appearance in the NCAA tournament in the middle of March, 2011.

  • As a junior at Duke in 2012, Ryan Kelly missed Duke’s three postseason games because of a right foot injury that required surgery. Then in January 2013 in a 68-40 win over Clemson, Kelly reinjured the foot, and it was reported to be the fifth metatarsal bone. Kelly did mention that he wasn’t sure if he was ever at full strength after his second injury.

  • Marshall Plumlee suffered a stress metatarsal fracture of his left foot in a workout late in the pre-season of 2012.  He missed the first nine games and played very sparingly during the remainder of the season. In the post-season he finally had surgery on the foot and was out of commission for 14-16 weeks.

What, if anything, needs to be addressed regarding the facts in this article? I don’t know. I’m not an expert, nor do I pretend to be. But it does seem as if the 2004 conclusions of sports training professionals did not adequately stop or slow down the foot injuries at Duke.