Basketball Strength and Conditioning Expert Brian McCormick Discusses Stephen Curry Ankle Problems and Potential Solutions

Latest Update:

SpearsNBAYahoo
GState GM Riley says in statement @StephenCurry30 has no structural damage to sprained RT ankle & can play when he passes functionality test
1/10/12 4:53 PM

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Most of the folks I follow on Twitter are for "basketball reasons", and most of those are so-called "statheads".

I follow Brian McCormick (@brianmccormick) because he has very interesting insights into player development and coaching, and judging by the fact that he has 2,245 followers as I'm writing this, many other people feel the same way.

Brian runs a website called "Brian McCormick Basketball" (http://developyourbballiq.com) whose tag is "The Science Behind Basketball Coaching and Player Development". He has published numerous basketball-related books and has had numerous assistant and head coaching stints at various levels of player development (you can check out his full basketball bio here: http://developyourbballiq.com/about/).

Besides his expertise in on-court skills development, Brian also is a strength and conditioning expert. In fact, not only does he have a Masters degree in Sports Science, he is working on his PhD dissertation on the topic of agility and lateral movement in basketball. He even has a paper coming out in the Strength & Conditioning Journal on task complexity in strength training for injury prevention.

Basketball is a game of quick stops and starts. Until he [Curry] improves his foot strike in these conditions, he will be susceptible to further injury, and the Warriors’ success will be inextricably tied to the lateral edge on which he moves. (Brian McCormick)

When Stephen Curry went down with his 7th ankle sprain in the last 15 months the other night, Brian sent me a tweet with a link to an article by Daniel Kamenetzky which was posted in June and discussed some of the issues that might be a cause for concern with Curry's movement biomechanics. I think it's always a good thing to have second and third and fourth (you get the idea) opinions from experts, so I asked Brian if he would be kind enough to write down some of his thoughts on what's going on with Steph and if he thinks anything can be done about it going forward.

So, with that, please give your attention and a kind welcome to Mr. McCormick and read his article after the jump.

The following is written by Brian McCormick.

When I coached in Ireland, I had two players go down with Achilles-tendon injuries. The club’s response was rest and massage. The players were not in great shape at the beginning of the season, and increased their activity level and intensity too quickly, so there were extenuating circumstances. However, I explained to the club and the players that chronic injuries do not happen for no reason. Rest relieved the pain temporarily, but did not fix the problem; as soon as they resumed activity, it hurt again. Eventually, the players went to a stride specialist who identified an issue with their running mechanics which contributed to the injury.

An ankle sprain is an acute injury. However, when an athlete suffers repeated ankle sprains, he may develop chronic ankle instability.

An ankle sprain is an acute injury. However, when an athlete suffers repeated ankle sprains, he may develop chronic ankle instability. As with my players, there is generally a cause for a chronic injury. Rest is insufficient to fix the problem.

In the case of Stephen Curry, the problem would appear to be his stride pattern: he contacts the ground initially on the external border of his foot. In this clip of Curry’s injury against the Kings, his body is in good position: he stops with his foot outside his knee and his knee outside his hip. This body position should create sufficient lateral force to stop his momentum and enable a change of direction. However, he appears to load the outside of the foot; ideally, the foot should pronate with the weight toward the inside of his foot on ground contact to decelerate and change directions.

In Curry's situation, I would expect upper-body sway or another movement deficiency that would cause this issue (his body positioning was not as good in this clip against Eric Gordon, but in the last frame, you can clearly see the loading on the external border of his foot.) However, there is little sway; his change-of-direction technique is good. Instead, the problem is his normal gait, as Daniel Kamenetzky pointed out on his blog that he loads the external border of his foot when walking and running. With this type of motion, he is always on the edge of an ankle sprain.

The issue for most players after an ankle sprain is regaining strength and range of motion. When I coached in Ireland, I watched one of my players shoot free throws in our first practice and asked him about his hurt ankle. He said that it had happened over a year ago. However, it affected his shooting. He had a limited range of motion due to incomplete rehabilitation from the injury. He learned a new motor program to compensate for the reduced range of motion, so even when his ankle "felt better", there were negative consequences from the injury.

For a player like Curry with multiple ankle sprains, each additional sprain leads to the weakening or stretching of the ligaments, resulting in increased instability and laxity and decreased proprioception. While strengthening exercises, balance exercises, and other traditional rehabilitation protocols will help to reduce the injury, strengthen the muscles around the joint, and return some proprioception, two issues will remain: (1) the stretched and weakened ligaments and (2) the same stride mechanics with the loading on the external border of the foot. His motor program essentially puts him at risk for injury, as "normal" movement for him is loading first on the lateral aspect of the foot. Any dynamic movement makes controlling his center of gravity difficult due to this ground contact pattern coupled with the increased instability of so many previous sprains.

Like my players who did not improve until they saw a stride specialist and began a program to retrain their movement patterns, Curry will continue to be susceptible to frequent ankle injuries until he changes his movement patterns. Rather than rush him into the line-up this season, an extensive rehabilitation program with a stride or movement expert would appear to be the best course of action for the longevity of his career.

Without a change in his movement patterns, his offense and defense will be affected. As visible in the videos above, even when his body is in a good position to decelerate, he sprains his ankle. Therefore, there is little that he can do to improve his basketball technique to avoid further injury. Basketball is a game of quick stops and starts. Until he improves his foot strike in these conditions, he will be susceptible to further injury, and the Warriors’ success will be inextricably tied to the lateral edge on which he moves.

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