The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

NBA Stars – They’re Just Like Us: Deron Williams’s Ankle Pain

Posted by on Tuesday, October 30th, 2012


Deron Williams’s ankle means a lot to me.

You know who Deron Williams is, right? Starting point guard for the Brooklyn Nets? Okay, let me explain.

For every fan who has seen his or her favorite team win over and over, there are probably fifty more who look at their team and wistfully wonder, “Will it ever be our turn?” Now here’s an extra layer of agony to throw on top of decades of dogged losing: what if you win and no one cares?

That happened to me. As a longtime fan of the New Jersey Nets, I was used to beginning every season with hope at the draft (“Maybe Yinka Dare is the answer!”) then watching as hope crumbled into a nightly display of ineptitude. Injuries, carelessness, stupidity, coaches who looked like they were hoping to be fired, yup, those were our Nets. The litany of Nets’ disasters and missteps was almost awe-inspiring, especially the incredible run of draft day errors . Longtime Nets play by play man Ian Eagle could have delivered a speech worthy of an experienced keynote speaker about remaining upbeat amidst futility in his sleep.

Then came the magical seasons of 2001-2002 and 2002-2003. Suddenly the Nets were good–REALLY good. They were exciting to watch. They made it to the finals twice. Okay, they lost both times, but it’s hard to complain when you’re one of two last teams standing, especially when the seasons were such fun rides.

But here was the problem–in the New York area, the crickets were louder than the buzz around the team (fyi: I’ve lived in Manhattan for fifteen years, and I’ve never heard a cricket). The media dismissed the team with, “Wait until the schedule gets tough…wait until the league sees them a second time…wait until the playoffs when they face real competition…” When the crash never came and the success became too obvious to ignore,  the coverage switched to moaning about, “If only this was the Knicks…We’d care if it was the Knicks…The Knicks belong in championship games, not the Nets.” Worst of all, playoff games didn’t sell out. When talk show hosts said, “No one cares about the Nets,” it was hard to argue otherwise.

So though I am a Jersey girl, who fell for the team when I was a kid and thought it was cool  to see team uniforms with NJ on them, I couldn’t complain when it was announced a few years ago that the team was moving to a glitzy new arena in Brooklyn. I couldn’t say that my home state had treated them right or ever embraced them, so moving made sense. And it least it was still the New York area, not Winnipeg or something like that.

Now finally after years of protests, controversy, construction, and some “thanks for the memories” brutally losing seasons,  the team is about to open the new year on Thursday in their sparkling new arena, with a rebuilt roster that NBA analysts are calling one of the most improved in the league and a contender for a playoff spot.

All of this hinges on Williams, the most talented player on the team. It’s very simple: if Williams plays, there’s hope; if he doesn’t, there isn’t.  So when I heard late last week that he was going to sit out of practice for a few days due to an ankle condition, my heart sank. To borrow a phrase often applied to the other two “-ets” teams in town, “Same old Nets.”

Then I heard that Williams had ankle synovitis and I felt better. Certainly I would prefer it if he didn’t have any ankle issue, but as ankle troubles go, this could be worse. Let me explain.

Your joints are coated with a sheath of tissue called the synovium or synovial membrane. This protects the joint and helps it move smoothly. Just like any soft tissue, though, the synovium can become irritated and inflamed. This could happen if there’s another injury in the area that has caused swelling, which then presses on the synovium. There could also be loose bodies or fragments that push on the synovium, causing pain and stiffness. Ankle synovitis is typically caused by another traumatic, or sudden ankle injury, as noted above, or repetitive use. Think of how basketball players run and jump, and it’s easy to see how this kind of injury can happen.

Here are some symptoms of ankle synovitis:

  • pain on the front or sides of the ankle, especially when flexing your foot (like you do on every step);
  • pain that’s worse first thing in the morning, or after you’ve been sitting for a period of time;
  • pain when walking on sloped or uneven surfaces;
  • stiffness and possibly swelling.

If you have any of these symptoms, then you should see a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900 ) for an accurate diagnosis and to discuss a treatment plan.

And what would that treatment be? It starts with rest, hence the days off William got last week. The key is to rest it until it’s really healed, otherwise there’s a risk of recurrence. Williams got a cortisone shot, which immediately relieves pain but doesn’t cure it; hopefully Williams took enough time for the inflammation to really go down, but he was back at practice this weekend, which doesn’t really seem like enough time. I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays in the season opener on Thursday, then sits out one or two of the next few games (I’m feeling rather pessimistic).

Recovery may also include physical therapy and orthotics, if a biomechanical issue is putting pressure on the synovium. Williams mentioned the possibility of surgery in the offseason (oh, great…), but I assume he just means arthroscopic surgery to remove the bone spurs that are causing the irritation. That should be minor. I hope.

Between their size and their running and jumping, basketball players are always one step away from ankle and foot injuries. Hopefully the centerpiece of your team doesn’t suffer one–well, unless they’re playing the Nets. Then I wish your team ill. Just kidding! Sort of.


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.