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A doctor explains Joel Embiid’s foot injury

Jun 21, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT

Bill Self, Joel Embiid Bill Self, Joel Embiid

With Joel Embiid’s foot injury adding so much confusion to the NBA draft, I asked Dr. Ben Wedro of MD direct to help provide a little clarity – at least about the top-rated center. If you’re looking for help on the Andrew Wiggins/Jabari Parker debate, this isn’t the place (though I’ll have more on that tomorrow).

Q: What might have caused Embiid’s foot injury?

The navicular is located in the mid foot and is responsible for helping maintain the arch of the foot from heel to toe and transverse stability of the foot. It and the ligaments that attach to the mid foot to flex at the beginning of a stride and lock as the foot pushes off.

They are responsible for taking the load of the weight of the body as it comes down an distributing it. So, when you’re 7-foot-whatever and 300 pounds [ed: Emiid’s listed weight was 250 pounds at Kansas], that takes more load than if you’re me and and 5-9, 160. It’s one of those things that happens unfortunately. I don’t know if we’re built to be 7 feet.

Causes include increasing activity too quickly, poor equipment (in this case, perhaps poorly fit or supportive shoes) and bone insufficiency. Normal with the latter, it is due to osteoporosis but in a large 7 footer, it may be that the bones in his foot may not be able to support the size of his body.

When it is injured, it often takes time to make the diagnosis of the navicular stress fracture because it is not easily seen on x-ray.

Q: Considering his back injury also, is it possible Embiid’s bones are weak?

Unlikely. He’s a healthy guy. The think you think about with people with back fractures and bone problems is osteoporosis, and that’s more a disease of aging. You see that in older people, especially women who haven’t deposited calcium in their bones earlier on in life. They have a calcium deficit. So, that’s unlikely the case.

His bones are probably fine. His height is a problem.

Not a problem. You can’t teach height. But it puts more stress on the anatomy of the bones in the body to distribute all that pressure that comes through jumping and running.

As to the relationship with his previous back injury, the only relationship I can think of is being deconditioned and increasing practice and play time too quickly.

Q: What do you make of two screws being inserted into his foot?

The fracture needs to be stabilized and the screws are used for internal fixation. This is the expected procedure.

With either operative or non-operative approach, up to 90% of athletes can return to their  level of competition.

Q: Do you think that percentage is lower for elite athletes, because they must climb back further to a higher level?

They have more incentive to do that or facility to be able to do that. They have more people around them to get them there.

He goes eight hours a day, six days a week. That’s their full-time job, and he has a team of people – from a chiropractor to massage therapist to a physical therapist and a doctor – working on your foot six hours a day.

Q: How can he and his team minimize of suffering another injury?

Part of his rehabilitation and evaluations of his injuries in his rehab will be looking at his footwear and seeing how they can help him with that – whether that’s orthotics or a specially built shoe for him – would probably be appropriate.

You have to work hard on his mechanics. The people will be looking hard at how he lands, how he takes off, how he runs and try to minimize the amount of stress on his feet by doing that.

They’re not going to tell him not to run fast. They’re not going to tell him not to jump high. They’re going to try to work with his natural athletic ability and maximize it.

So, if Embiid returns to full health, preemptively limiting his minutes to avoid future injury would be no more effective than employing that strategy with any other player?

That’s right.

As long as they’re comfortable that his mechanics are together. Let’s say they find – and I don’t know this – but let’s presume he has mechanical issues with his gait or his jumping or whatever. if they don’t correct, then that’s a different story – or if he cannot correct that.

If they find that he is mechanically sound and he’s fully recovered and he has no pain, then he should enjoy a long, healthy career.

That leaves a lot of ifs, though it is helpful to know exactly where the uncertainty remains.

Is he a normal 22-year-old? Is he the next Greg Oden? If we all knew the answer, we could predict the future.

  1. elcaminobilly - Jun 21, 2014 at 8:17 PM

    Hate that he’s going through this, he seems to have a good head on his shoulders. I’d be really scared of drafting him, so many centers have had their careers drastically damaged by foot injuries, but if he does indeed make a full recovery, and you don’t draft him, you missed out on a great player. In this case I’m glad I don’t have to make that decision!

  2. saint1997 - Jun 21, 2014 at 8:32 PM

    Embiid is just so talented, and I’m not convinced these injuries will be chronic. I think the Bucks should jump at him, trade Sanders for a pick of some sorts and keep a front line of Giannis, Henson and Embiid

    • trevor123698 - Jun 21, 2014 at 11:57 PM

      they will be chronic. he wont last. anyone who drafts him is a retard

  3. mungman69 - Jun 21, 2014 at 8:38 PM

    Most of the centers that have had this injury have been a bit older than Embiid. I believe that Embiid is STILL the best player in this draft. If a team needs a center they should draft Embiid and if they don’t need a center they should trade the pick to a team that wants to move up. A team can get two extra first round picks for Embiid.

  4. haaaaasoooooo - Jun 21, 2014 at 9:25 PM

    The bucks should grab wiggins at 2, then trade sanders and get back into the lottery, and grab Embid. Don’t roll the dice with #2 pick when wiggins is right there. And healthy. Celtics? Philly? Sacramento?

    • theblackrook - Jun 22, 2014 at 12:51 AM

      This… this is smart. If someone actually did that i’d go on in on that.

    • adoombray - Jun 22, 2014 at 1:46 AM

      Only works in video games.

      Although speaking as a Boston resident, I’d take Sanders for the 6, I just can’t see it happening. Looking more and more like Embiid is riding the bench in Celtics green next year, I just hope that this doesn’t make too much sense to become reality

    • oasis511 - Jun 22, 2014 at 2:13 AM

      I think Bucks fans would love to make this trade, but I doubt very many fans on the receiving end of Sanders would be as enthusiastic. His contract extension doesn’t kick in until next season, so whoever got him would owe him $44 million over the next four years. For a player who got in as much trouble as Sanders did, only played in 23 games, and didn’t even play up to his previous season’s output? Not to mention, Sanders has been in the league four years and got that contract extension based almost entirely on the last 50 games of the 2012-2013 season.

    • sixerstrong - Jun 23, 2014 at 12:29 PM

      Nobody is going to give you a mid 1st for Sanders in a loaded draft like this.

  5. gmsalpha - Jun 22, 2014 at 12:39 AM

    Being that he’s a Kanas guy, I guess you could say he has “Self-inflicted wounds”.

  6. mungman69 - Jun 22, 2014 at 8:23 AM

    By the time Thursday night rolls around Embiid will be back to #1. I PREDICT.
    All the GMs will have time to realize that Embiid is still the best pick in this draft.

    • yougottalovethepain - Jun 25, 2014 at 9:23 AM

      I don’t think he’ll go # 1 but do think he’s the unquestionably the best player in the draft and worth the risk. As a Sixers fan I’d take him at 3 instead of Exum or one of the PF’s being mentioned. Is Vonleh or Gordon going to change the trajectory of a team? No, but Embiid can. I know the risks. The Sixers doctors know more as they just got his medicals. If they don’t see anything career threatening there they should take the chance and grab him.

  7. 1historian - Jun 23, 2014 at 8:21 AM

    1 more question – has this doctor seen the x-rays of Embiid’s foot? If he hasn’t this whole piece is just draft-week speculation.

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