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.

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9 Replies to “Duke Basketball: Why all the Foot Injuries?”

  1. SemperFi says:

    I wonder if sports medicine has looked at this issue from a nutritional perspective. There are not many 18 to 21 year olds that research out nutritionally dense foods. Pizza, burgers, fries, chip & ramon noodles just don’t cut it. I’m sure the food service provides an array of healthful foods, but are wise choices being made? I would hope that all these athletes are on some kinds of supplemental program. At least a calcium/magnesium supplement or better yet a whole food supplement rich in these minerals. With the stresses placed on their bodies, sports nutrition needs to put the same emphasis on repairing the body as it does for fueling the body. I would love to have Grant Hill come and teach these young athletes how to take care of their bodies for a long and profitable career.

  2. steve says:

    I don’t know Grant nor do I have any way to contact key personnel at Duke. I would think that in such an elite sports program they pay attention to everything, including diet, supplements, rest, warm-ups, and the best custom footware. It would also seem as if they would pay special attention to building up the muscles surrounding the feet and ankles. Thus, it is surprising that there are these repeated injuries.

  3. Bill says:

    The number of injuries detailed in this article are too many to be just a matter of ill fate. I would not be surprised if the injuries are caused by shoes. Unfortunately some programs are administered without turning to the truth to solve problems

  4. steve says:

    Bill, you could be right about shoes being an issue. With the millions involved in Duke’s program one would think that custom shoes could be supplied for each player in order to protect for the differences in foot shape, foot size, balance, etc. This is only a hypothesis.

  5. Bermuda Bob says:

    Foot Problems at Duke …

    I have always wondered about other aspects that seemed were not mentioned in the medical assessment …

    I wonder (out loud) that the type of shoes might be the antagonist … Both the NCAA and the manufacturer designate the type of shoes the kids wear, both in style and composition …

    I recall that Kyrie Irving was given an “insert” as opposed to a different style of shoe …

    We all understand that schools and the NCAA have sold their souls to the shoe manufacturers …

    I make this observation from my own problems with something as simple as Heel Spurs. I could never find a pair of Nike shoes that fit properly and actually had to go to a relatively off-brand for golf shoes – Florsheim to get a proper fit …

    The same could be true for these kids, who are all extreme athletes next to me, playing a game that is much more physical than golf !!!

    Along with what the kids are wearing on the Court is to consider what they are wearing off the Court …

    Think about it, it’s summer … the time of the wear when people forget what’s good for their feet and donn flip-flops or some other ridiculous style of shoe (if you could consider sandals a shoe !!!) Changing shoes just for the season HAS to be an antagonist to generally bad foot health and a major problem for super athletes !!!

    I’d also add that kids have a penchant for wearing “sneaks” all the time, and any Podiatrist will tell you that just like changing shoes for each game, not changing at all is equally dangerous !!!

    Considering the probability of statistics usually indicates that the problem is something right in front of you, aside from the obvious – nutritional – the footwear has to be part of the problem !!!

  6. steve says:

    Bob, sounds like you know a lot about athletic shoes. You make some really good points.

  7. Bermuda Bob says:

    Well, Steve …

    When we see just how much control Nike has over so many teams, doesn’t it make sense that they might be the antagonist ???

    We all know that some manufacturers just don’t fit us, individually, so with the weight of such numbers and knowing that kids are forced to wear stuff simply because the manufacturer sez so … it makes sense to me !!!

    Now, the question is … Is anyone at Duke listening ???

    Rock On !!!

  8. steve says:

    Hope someone’s listening in Durham

    1. Bermuda Bob says:

      Let’s all look forward to an injury free season !!!

      BTW: Nicely researched article !!!

      Rock On, Mate !!!

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