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Yao Ming's Broken Foot is Not Healing

Posted Oct 05 2009 10:02pm
Word has gotten out that Yao Ming did not get great news about the broken bone in his foot at his six week checkup. The bone does not seem to be healing properly, although he has no pain. He still is laid up and won't be playing for the Chinese national team. It remains questionable when he'll be ready to play for the Houston Rockets.

According to the article that I read at ShanghaiDaily.com, a bone scan done recently shows the fracture as still unhealed. I happen to know who Yao's doctor is, so I certainly trust his assessment. I think the story gives a false impression, though. A bone scan is a test that shows bone activity. It is great because it's sensitivity can pick up fractures and other bone issues that may be hard to see on a plain x-ray. A problem, though, is that it is so sensitive that it can still give a false positive signal for things like arthritis, past surgeries, and old fractures. I would expect to still see the fracture on the bone scan.

It certainly is possible for the fracture to not heal quickly, especially on a big guy like Yao. Bone has a blood supply...it's living tissue. Some areas of bones have a greater blood supply than others and if the fracture occurred in a weaker area, it likely has a poorer supply. This can cause a condition known as avascular necrosis. This is a deterioration and non-healing of the fracture site due to a poor blood supply. Often, the use of a bone stimulator can be helpful for this. A bone stimulator is a device that sends waves to the bone to stimulate blood flow and bone healing. It is a non-invasive device that works well to get a bone to heal faster and stronger.

A bone stimulator is not just for professional basketball players, it is covered by most insurance companies and can be prescribed by your podiatrist.

UPDATE 6/30/09: As more details emerge, the first article had it wrong...while he might have had a bone scan, the determining test was a CT scan. This is a much more appropriate test and would be able to assess the status of healing of Yao's fracture. It seems like it's possible that he'll miss much or all of next season. I'm hoping he'll be able to have this fracture ultimately heal without surgery. With all the surgery Yao has already had, another could really damage his career.
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