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Foot and Ankle Injuries in Basketball

Basketball maneuvers put a great deal of stress on the feet and ankles, and for that reason, foot and ankle injuries are very common in basketball. Foot and ankle injuries can affect the ligaments, tendons, and bones, and can sideline a basketball player for weeks.

Let’s discuss some of the most common foot and ankle injuries.

Ankle Sprains

Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries in basketball. Basketball players can sprain an ankle if the foot twists or rolls beyond its normal range of motion, stretching the ligaments. An ankle sprain can damage the fibers of the ligament and even cause it to tear partially or completely. This can result in tenderness, swelling, pain, and instability in the ankle. Dwight Howard of the Houston Rockets recently sprained his ankle and will be out for at least the next month as he recovers from the ankle injury and a knee injury. The Boston Celtics’ Kelly Olynyk is also dealing with an ankle sprain and won’t likely return to play until after the All-Star game.

Treatment: Most ankle sprains will heal without the need for surgery. Nonsurgical treatment generally involves the RICE method: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Rehabilitation may be needed to build strength in the ankle for more severe sprains. Surgery is only used if the ankle continues to be unstable after months of nonsurgical treatment.

Achilles Tendon Injuries

The Achilles tendon connects the calf muscles to the heel and is used when walking, running, and jumping, so it is common for basketball players to injure this tendon. Achilles tendonitis occurs when the tendon becomes inflamed from repetitive stress, either from pushing yourself too hard, tight calf muscles, or a bone spur. Achilles tendonitis can result in pain, swelling, and stiffness in the tendon and/or the back of the heel. In some cases, the tendon may also tear if it is under too much stress. Anderson Varejao of the Cleveland Cavaliers tore his Achilles tendon in late December and will miss the rest of the season to recover.

Treatment: Most of the time, Achilles tendonitis can be treated without surgery, but it can take several months for symptoms to completely go away. Nonsurgical treatment generally includes rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medications, and physical therapy. Shoe inserts may also be recommended to relieve strain on the tendon. If the tendon tears, surgical repair is often the best option.

Plantar Fasciitis

Basketball players put a lot of stress on their feet, which can often lead to injuries. One of the most commonly injured areas in the foot is the plantar fascia, a long, thin ligament that runs along the bottom of the foot, connecting the heel to the front of the foot. The plantar fascia can become inflamed with repetitive activity, such as running, or tight calf muscles. Plantar fasciitis causes pain at the bottom of the foot in the heel area.

Treatment: It can take some time for symptoms to completely go away, but surgery is rarely needed for plantar fasciitis. Nonsurgical treatment includes rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medications, and exercises that stretch the calves and plantar fascia. In some cases, cortisone injections and special shoe inserts may be recommended.

Stress Fractures

Stress fractures are tiny cracks in the bone that result from overuse. In basketball players, stress fractures commonly occur in the feet and ankles. The muscles normally absorb most the shock from impact, but if the muscles become tired during the game, they are unable to absorb all of the shock. That stress is then transferred to the bone, which can lead to tiny cracks. Generally, pain from stress fractures is worse during activity and gets better with rest. Stress fractures can also cause bruising in the affected area.

Treatment: Treatment for stress fractures depends on the severity of the injury. For some, several weeks of rest with protective footwear or a cast is all that is needed. For others, surgery may be needed to fix the bones together using pins, screws, and/or plates so that the bones heal in the correct position. Either way, there will be some time out from the game until the fracture heals, and players must gradually return to activity to prevent re-injury.

The NBA is gearing up for the All-Star game this weekend, and March Madness is right around the corner! Follow me on Twitter @GleiberMD for more updates on basketball injuries.