The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

NBA News: Noncompliance Leads to Second Navicular Stress Fracture Surgery for Joel Embiid

Posted by on Wednesday, January 6th, 2016


Noncompliance is a big issue for medical practitioners who want to see their patients make the best recovery possible. With podiatry, it’s a particularly big challenge to stay off one’s feet for months on end. There are all sorts of products like casts, boots, wheelchairs, crutches, and orthopedic shoes to help, but patients often feel silly or find them difficult to use. Many times, the body feels better even though it has not, in fact, healed fully. Professional baller Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers learned this the hard way. After stress fracture surgery on his right foot in March 2014, he took an entire season off, spent some time in a boot, and wound up back in the operating room this past June.

navicular stress fracture
Stress fractures in the feet, particularly in the navicular (shown in green), can be slow to heal. Flickr CC user Ryan Johnson

What Happened to Joel Embiid?

A navicular stress fracture commonly affects bigger athletes with more offloading to do. Unlike sudden, traumatic injuries, stress fractures develop with repetitive movements over time. As we reported in the past, 90% of players return to pre-injury playing level and two-thirds of players never suffer another incident, but some — like Yao Ming — have had their careers ended when the foot bones continue to crack. Though the prognosis is generally good, the navicular bone is the second-slowest-healing bone in the body, next to the heel bone, so it takes a lot of commitment from determined players to ride out the recovery.

Walking Boot Compliance Becomes An Issue

Conflicting reports surfaced in mid-June about the top draft pick — some said surgery was being discussed, others said the fracture was just healing slower than expected. Embiid underwent his second foot surgery in August. According to Brian Geltzeiler of The Cauldron: “The simple task of getting Embiid to consistently wear his walking boot was a challenge for the franchise, and multiple sources suggested that some people in Philadelphia’s front office wonder whether a second surgery would have been necessary if Embiid had worn the boot as much as he was told to.”1

As NYC podiatrists, we encounter a lot of athletes who want to hurry back to their favorite sports. Yet, Geltzeiler also reported that Embiid was “determined to go to Vegas to party for the balance of the 10 days of summer league” in July. He “not only refused to wear the boot, but he carried himself as if nothing was wrong with the foot, shooting jumpers and even occasionally dunking.”

Joel Embiid Taking Stress Fracture Rehab Seriously Now

In November, we learned that the young player is now “taking rehab seriously.” Though there are “no guarantees that this operation will work,” a source says that Embiid is “at least is staying on top of his conditioning” and has a new level of “maturity” and “seriousness” in him.2 The gravity of the situation seems to be weighing on the franchise, as NBC News reports that “it’s not even clear he’ll be ready to make his NBA debut at the start of the 2016-17 season.”3

Navicular Stress Fracture Treatment in NYC

Tell-tale signs of a navicular stress fracture include:4

  • Aching pain in the top, middle portion of the foot
  • Pain radiating along the arch
  • Increased pain with activity, decreased with rest
  • Inability to walk normally
  • Some swelling
  • Tenderness to the touch

There is no reason to suffer through pain. If you live in the NYC or Westchester area, stop by and see the board-certified podiatrists at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. We have a whole range of conservative therapies that include walking boots and pain-relieving lasers, but we are also experienced surgeons if it becomes necessary. Our physical therapists have worked with elite-level professional athletes and Olympians. We can help you with the physical and emotion weight of recovery and get you back to pre-injury status again. Contact us to schedule an appointment as soon as possible.



   [ + ]


If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.