Beware the Compound Fracture

Let’s look back to March 31st, 2013. The “Elite Eight” game between the Louisville Cardinals and Duke University had six and a half minutes left in the first half. “It came on such a seemingly innocuous play. Kevin Ware was running toward the perimeter to close out on a 3-point shot from Duke’s Tyler Thornton with 6:33 left in the half. He jumped to challenge the shot, and while in the air, turned back to see the play. He then landed on his right leg, which kept going toward the bench while the rest of his body stopped. The leg snapped.” (http://goo.gl/0cWWvm). 

Ware suffered a compound fracture, a break severe enough to extrude through the skin. The video is gruesome and many players and fans couldn’t handle seeing the stomach wrenching injury. I don’t recommend watching it if you are squeamish, but here is the link: http://goo.gl/k0r9MB  With over two hours of surgery and a rod installed through the right tibia, Ware’s leg was reset. He now faced months of recovery time and physical therapy.

Fast forward to August 1st, 2014. During a U.S. national team scrimmage match, Paul George jumped to block a shot from right under the basket. He came down with his foot against the stanchion and the unthinkable happened; his leg snapped. Again, this video is not the most pleasant and should only be watched with discretion: http://goo.gl/0PnpLc (the slow motion view happens around the 1:00 mark.) George suffered a compound fracture of the tibia and fibula bones. He was rushed to the hospital and into surgery. Like Ware, his leg was reset with a metal rod for support. Also like Ware, George faced months of recovery time and physical therapy.

Compound fractures like these are not common sports injuries, but they certainly are gruesome. In fact, these types of fractures are usually only found in severe car and motorcycle accidents or falls from significant heights. The real question on everyone’s mind was how the heck did this happen? Sure, Ware’s leg might have simply succumbed to the power of torque and perhaps the stanchion and angle of the landing were to blame for George’s fractures. But how common are these injuries and how can athletes protect themselves from the same fate?

One contributing cause could be the presence of a prior stress fracture. With the constant running, jumping, and landing during a basketball game, players’ bones are getting a constant beating. Now multiply that same pressure extended out over a whole season and a stress fracture is not an unlikely injury. Remember, any pain is unnatural. If a player feels throbbing or shooting pain with exercise, they need to be examined for stress fractures, especially if the pain subsides with rest and then reoccurs. Treating these micro fractures can help prevent a more serious injury like the compound fractures of these two players.

The Ohio State basketball team is screened at the beginning of every season for vitamin D, calcium, and other nutrient deficiencies. Vitamin D and calcium may be the single most important factors in bone strength. People who live in sunny climates and spend time outdoors can absorb almost all the vitamin D they need directly from the sun.

However, many athletes can find themselves deficient from the hours upon hours of indoor practicing. Midwestern and Northeastern teams are at particular rick due to the weather patterns that keep us indoors for a good portion of the year. (Hmmm, does it seem like a coincidence that Ware played for Kentucky and George played for Indiana?) Calcium comes from the foods we eat, but if we aren’t eating the right food, we could find ourselves with weakening bones from calcium deficiency. Even if we are getting enough calcium, if we lack vitamin D, then our bodies won’t absorb calcium as efficiently.

It should be clear by now that a healthy diet is as important to injury prevention as proper training and proper medical care are. If you play sports or have a sports player in your home, make sure they are taking in essential nutrients, including supplemental vitamin D and make sure that they aren’t ignoring the warning signs of a minor injury that could lead to something bigger. Should you expect as dramatic an injury as Kevin Ware and Paul George suffered? Well, no, but it wouldn’t hurt to drink a few glasses of milk and go see your podiatrist if you suspect injury. 

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