Lately, we’ve been posting about quite a few NFL athletes (and more than a few wide receivers) benched with foot and ankle injuries: Hakeem Nicks of the Giants; Santonio Holmes of the Jets; Matt Forte of the Bears; Terrell Suggs of the Ravens. Now, another wide receiver is sidelined: Pierre Garcon of the Washington Redskins.
In the 2011 offseason, Garcon was signed to a 5 year contract for $42.5 million. Thus far, he’s only played in the season opener and a handful of plays since then, due to a mysterious injury of his right foot sustained in game 1 against New Orleans.
At first it was thought Garcon had a case of the dreaded turf toe, but when that was ruled out, an MRI was ordered. Monday, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan revealed that Garcon has an inflamed capsule underneath the joint of his second toe. “That toe is quite sore,” Shanahan said. “You could see when he’s pushing off when he goes downfield he’s just not anywhere close to full speed.”
Garcon’s injury is called capsulitis. The capsule is the fluid filled outer covering that joins two bones to make a joint. There are five of these joints in each foot, joining the metatarsals to the toe bones (phalanges). The capsule under the second toe, where Garcon is reported to have his injury, is the most common capsule to become inflamed.
Those who suffer this kind of injury will generally report pain, swelling, redness, and a feeling like they’re walking on a stone. If left untreated, painful calluses may develop. Capsulitis can be difficult to diagnose because of other related structures in the forefoot that can also become inflamed from biomechanical problems. It is frequently misdiagnosed as bursitis.
Why do so many wide receivers suffer foot injuries?
1. Wide Receivers demand a lot of their feet
Anyone who’s watched an NFL game knows that a wide receiver frequently pivots sharply when he turns to catch the ball. He sometimes precedes that action with a fake motion in the opposite direction to shake off the man covering him. This position also requires very significant, sudden bursts of power (jumping and sprinting). The lateral motion and quick power is extremely demanding on every part of the foot and ankle and one step in the wrong direction, or one bad landing after making the catch, and the foot, toe, or ankle twists sharply, causing a sprain, irritation, or fracture. And that doesn’t even include a teammate or opposing player accidentally landing on your foot. Often, the injuries are an accumulation of overuse, as in plantar fasciitis, or achilles tendonitis.
2. The playing surface: synthetic vs natural turf
An additional problem is the playing surface. Eleven NFL teams now use a synthetic turf called FieldTurf in their stadiums. While it requires no irrigation or cutting, synthetic turf is responsible for more athletic injuries because it doesn’t have the same “spring” as grass. Grass and soil actually give a little bit underfoot, allowing a player’s foot to properly twist and turn, whereas synthetic turf does not.
In one of three NFL injury studies, researchers found that National Football League players were significantly more likely to injure their legs and feet on FieldTurf than on grass. According to Elliott Hershman, MD, of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, “NFL players were 27% more likely to sustain a lower extremity injury when the game was played on artificial FieldTurf instead of the real thing”. More specifically, “there was an 88% increased risk of an injury to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and a 32% increased risk of an eversion ankle sprain (when the ankle rolls too far inwards) when playing on FieldTurf”, Hershman reported at an American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons meeting.
University of Missouri turfgrass expert Brad Fresenburg has done comparative tests on natural turf and synthetic turf. Fresenburg says that these tests show “increased potential pressure on joints and bones from the inability of a fully planted cleat-wearing foot to divot or twist out, an action that releases force. The traction on synthetic turf is much greater”, he said. “Most people see [divots and ripped out grass] as damaged turf. I like to say those divots are a sign that the field is doing its job – yielding to the athletes’ cleats.”
Garcon described his ongoing foot injury as frustrating, and is determined not to let himself get discouraged by the healing process. He also understands that he risks another setback if he returns to action before he’s fully healed. “It does suck not being able to play, but you can’t sit around and mope about it,” said Garcon. “I need my toes to be 100 percent… If it’s not 100 percent, I can’t really give it any power or force.”
With Garcon out, first-year pro Aldrick Robinson is expected to take his place. Robinson was a sixth-round draft pick out of Southern Methodist University in 2011 and played on the Redskins’ practice squad last season.