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Houston Rocket’s Yao Ming - Basketball players and foot injuries

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It was game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals in May 2009 that Yao twisted his ankle. That year was one of his healthiest since a long list of injuries that began in 2005. That year, osteomyelitis infected his big toe; the 06-07 season brought a break to the right leg and 07-08 required foot surgery for a stress related fracture of the left foot. After coming back from all that, Yao was a significant factor in the 08-09 Rockets march to the NBA semifinals. He told reporters after game 3 that he played through a ‘twist' in his ankle each quarter. Doctors took subsequent CT scans of the injured ankle and noted another fracture. After spending the year recovering from that surgery, Yao has spent the preseason slowly working up to his old self.

So, why are basketball players, especially the tallest ones, so susceptible to injury? There are several factors that play into this. One factor that we have talked about before is the compounding pressure and weight applied to your feet when you run. Many of the tallest players in the NBA are also the heaviest. When one foot takes the impact of a 300+ pound athlete sprinting down the hardwood floor, their bones and ligaments are put under a stress many of us will never experience. Add to that, a second factor. Quick changes in direct, pivots and cuts all subject the foot to ligamentous strain that can easily turn into injury. For these reasons, footwear and orthotic inserts are of the utmost importance to basketball players be they professionals or high school players.

Let's get back to Yao. Is there hope for our center? Can we expect a productive season out of this international star? Only time will tell. For now, his doctors have limited him to playing only 24 minutes per game. This will provide time for him to work back to performance condition, but will provide challenges for the Rockets team. We can hope that Yao follows in the footsteps of Zydrunas Ilgauskas of the Miami Heat who has fully recovered from a similar surgery. Unfortunately, there is the old adage ‘the bigger they are the harder they fall' and there are many big players who have never recovered. Here's hoping some medical expertise, the proper physical therapy, and a little luck make Yao Ming the strong center that has helped the Rockets out in the past.

Until next time, keep those feet happy and healthy Austin!

Dr. Craig H. Thomajan, DPM, FACFAS, FAENS
Founder and Managing Partner of Austin Foot and Ankle Specialists
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