USA Today's For The Win, "A simple guide to NBA draft prospect Joel Embiid's foot injury"

Published June 25, 2014

A Simple Guide to NBA Draft Prospect Joel Embiid's Foot Injury

By: Adi Joseph

It would have been a minor procedure for most, but for Joel Embiid, needing surgery to repair a stress fracture in his right foot could cause him to slide down in the draft because of fears over his potential for future injuries. But how bad is it really? USA TODAY Sports spoke to Nick Grosso, a sports medicine surgeon and president of The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics, one of the largest practices in the country about the injury:

What is a stress fracture in the navicular bone?

“Stress fractures themselves are relatively common events, especially for athletes. You see them in shin bones, long bones. But this kind of foot stress fracture, it’s relatively uncommon. The navicular bone, the best way to describe it, is it’s the keystone of the foot, top of the arch. Typically, this type of injury, it’s for jumpers — basketball and volleyball players. Historically, (NBA centers) Yao Ming and Bill Walton have had this injury. … Coming off the surgery, you want to take it slowly. The way I describe is it’s like a paperclip, it’s going to break if you bend it too fast.”

What kind of surgery did Embiid have?

“I don’t know exactly what surgery they did, but (Richard) Ferkel (Embiid’s surgeon) is one of the best in the field. … Surgery is something you go to earlier for athletes (than for non-athletes, who could let it heal). One or two screws across the bone to support it. Rebarring concrete. Typically they heal. There’s an 80%-plus healing rate.”

What is the risk of reinjury?

“It’s an uncommon-enough injury that there’s really no data on (reinjury). With surgery, the healing rate is something like 80%. Whether they reinjure it again. It has to do with shoewear, how they train, how they deal with it. There’s obviously no guarantee.”

How much is height and size a factor?

“I think if you think, biomechanically, lever arms and things, if you’re 7-feet and 250 pounds, there’s going to be more stress. In basketball players, foot injuries are so common in the big guys. … There’s just a lot of stress. The average human’s not seven feet tall. There’s no give to hardwood. … In the healing portion of it, weight has no function at all. (But as he returns to his feet) the more weight you have it on it, the more stress is going to be placed across that joint.”

Will Embiid’s age help him?

“The younger you are, the better you heal. He’s still a growing kid. There’s no guarantee. You’re talking about an NBA team with millions of dollars on the line. … The longer the fracture’s there, the longer it can take to heal. … If I didn’t need the kid the first year … he might be worth a chance.”

Why is this so different from the torn anterior cruciate ligament in 2013 draft prospect Nerlens Noel’s knee?

“ACL’s like Tommy John surgery. … It’s like, guys come back better than ever. You look at guys who come back from ACLs … it’s a really common injury. Guys are more comfortable taking a chance on that. … This is a relatively uncommon injury. There’s no studies out there because we don’t have enough instances of it to really track.”

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