In 2013, the public got a look at the feet of Lebron James. Lebron James is a six-foot-eight-inches NBA superstar who has won four NBA MVP awards. However, his feet would not win any prizes in the looks department. His pinky toe earned the moniker of “The Lone Phallanger” because of its distance from and misalignment with his other toes. Other comments included: “His toes should spread out more and play zone defense.”

Moving on to 2017, Shaquille O’Neal’s big toe caused a social media firestorm, mostly because the toe is not even close to pointing in the right direction. The big man took off his size 22 shoe and popped his gnarly-looking appendage out at halftime during the Cavaliers’ blowout victory, and it immediately stole the spotlight away from the game. One commentator compared the toe to a “baked potato.”

Why These Reactions from the Public?

We probably don’t expect star athletes like Lebron and Shaq to have such severe problems with a part of the body that they rely on in every basketball game. However, it should be obvious that basketball is very hard on the feet. By the time the best players get to the NBA, they’ve played and trained for thousands of hours on hard surfaces. And, all this stress on the feet is magnified by the fact that most NBA players are big, heavy guys. With such continuous pressure on a player’s feet, toes begin to curl in weird ways, and nails get scrunched up. For many players, the constant pounding and abuse have life-lasting effects, and foot deformities have even ended the careers of some famous players.

What Are the Most Common Foot Deformity Problems Related to Basketball?

Flat Feet – Many basketball players have flat feet. A more serious condition is known as Acquired Adult Flatfoot Deformity (AAFD) which results from a progressive flattening of the arch brought about by the weakening of the posterior tibial tendon. As the tendon progressively fails, deformity of the foot and ankle may occur.

Bunions – Basketball involves a lot of running and sudden stops, motions which are known to encourage the development of bunions. A bunion can occur on either side of the foot, but the most common site is the big toe. A big toe bunion is a misalignment of the two bones that form the base joint of the toe. The toe begins to angle inward towards the other toes, thrusting the base joint out further in the opposite direction.

Hallux Limitus/Rigidus – This is another deformity of the big toe. The affected joint becomes increasingly limited in motion (hallus limitus). If untreated this loss of motion can continue and bone spurs may develop causing the joint to become rigid (hallus rigidus).

Hammer Toes and Mallet Toes – In these types of deformities, the toes get stuck in a bent position. When in the development stage, hammertoes are known as flexible hammertoes. If left untreated, flexible hammertoes may develop into the more serious rigid hammertoes where the tendons have tightened and the joint had become misaligned and immobile.

Let Your Podiatrist Help You Get Back on the Court

It’s important to realize that most foot deformities occur gradually. You don’t just wake up one morning with a bunion or a hammertoe. By taking the advice of a podiatrist on caring for your feet and focusing on prevention, you may be able to defuse risk factors before they sideline you. If you are forced to stop playing basketball because of a foot problem, you must consult a podiatrist. At Rocky Mountain Foot & Ankle, our podiatrists are trained to treat all kinds of sports injuries, so give us a call to see how we can help you and your game.