Dr. Brian Sokalsky, DO, is at the helm of Jersey Shore Sports Medicine, which has a new office in Somers Point at 10 West Connecticut Ave., and is a board certified family physician with special training in sports medicine. Once per month, Glory Days Magazine publisher Dave O’Sullivan talks with Dr. Sokalsky about various sports injuries, treatments and prevention methods.
Recently, Philadelphia 76ers prized rookie Ben Simmons suffered a broken foot, and even before the season has begun a collective groan went up in the Philadelphia and South Jersey areas.
Dr. Brian Sokalsky, of Jersey Shore Sports Medicine in Somers Point, said Sixers fans shouldn’t expect to see the LSU product on the floor before Christmas. Simmons broke the fifth metatarsal bone, which is the bone that connects the pinky toe to the heel, on his right food during the final day of training camp at Stockton University. It can be a difficult injury to come back from, particularly for a guy the size of Simmons (6-foot-10, 240 pounds).
“The metatarsal in the foot is equivalent to the long bone at the bottom of the hand. It’s the bone that links the pinky toe to the bones toward the heel. There are really three different injuries that can happen to the metatarsal. The most common one in kids is when they pull off a little piece of the bone when they sprain their ankle. That’s called an evulsion fracture,” Sokalsky explained. “In adults, that usually doesn’t happen. They usually will tear the ligament as opposed to a fracture. But there is a middle section (of the foot) that can break from a stress fracture or an acute fracture. That’s called a “Jones fracture” and that’s the one everybody is speculating that (Simmons) has. And that’s the one that doesn’t heal very well on its own because of poor blood supply, and that’s why they typically operate on that.”
Sokalsky explained that this is an injury that has affected other star athletes in sports such as basketball and football.
“Last year, that’s what Dez Bryant had and that’s why he missed the end of the season. And Kevin Durant in 2014 had one and he missed a big chunk of the season,” Sokalsky said. “In an operation, what they will do is put a screw in, and they may also use a bone graft to help with the heeling of the fracture. But they put the screw in to hold everything in place.”
Sokalsky said the healing time can vary, and being a high level athlete doesn’t necessarily mean someone can recover more quickly from a broken bone in the foot.
“Generally, you are in a cast or a boot, or some type of protective equipment, for about 6-8 weeks. It’s usually a 12-week total rehab. Conservatively speaking, three to four months. If it’s broken, it’s broken. There aren’t necessarily degrees, such as with a sprain. The more important part is where it’s broken,” Sokalsky said. “When it’s in that middle zone (of a foot) it usually doesn’t heal that quickly. For the average person, what you would do is put it in a boot for about six or eight weeks to see if it heals so you can avoid surgery. But for a professional athlete, they don’t want to roll the dice because if you’re in a boot for eight weeks and then you still need surgery, you might be looking at half a year. They don’t even roll the dice, they just go ahead and have the surgery.”
Actually, Sokalsky said football and basketball players might even be more susceptible to this type of injury simply because of their size. They are much bigger than the average person, and that weight causes a lot of stress on the feet.
“That’s one of the concerns with Joel Embiid. He’s seven feet tall and almost 300 pounds,” he said. “A lot of great basketball players, their careers are ended because of a foot problem. Bill Walton is a great example of that.”
Sokalsky said he typically doesn’t see many broken foot injuries among high school athletes. The injuries tend to be more of the sprained ankle and ACL variety.
“We see a lot of ankle sprains and some knee issues. With female athletes, you have the ACL issue,” Sokalsky said. “Around here, I haven’t really seen an issue (with feet), but, then again, we don’t have a lot of 7-footers walking around Atlantic and Cape May counties.”
Sokalsky said with this type of injury, surgery should be avoided if at all possible.
“Anytime you have surgery, no matter how great the surgeon is, there are risks,” Sokalsky said. “Tom Brady got an infection after an ACL reconstruction, and I guarantee you he had a great surgeon. But, sometimes things happen. If everything goes well, hopefully three months (for Simmons). As a Sixers fan, the way our luck has been running, you always worry about complications and him missing more time. Being a Sixers fan myself, yes, there is some anxiety with this injury.”