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  • Nov 17, 2022

A Game of Feet

CHA's Michael Theodoulou, DPM, FACFAS, shares his journey from the soccer field to podiatric surgery

For many athletes, a serious foot injury is catastrophic. For Chief of Podiatric Surgery Michael Theodoulou, it led him to his lifelong career. After graduating from college, Dr. Theodoulou played Second Division soccer in Sheffield, England, during which he suffered a foot injury. He was diagnosed with a Lisfranc's injury to his dominant right foot–a sprain of the vital ligament in the midfoot.

Though not uncommon, at the time, a Lisfranc's injury was often misdiagnosed. Fortunately for Dr. Theodoulou, his trainers referred him to a sports medicine podiatrist who identified the sprain, rather than a complete tear that could have ended his soccer career. While a Lisfranc's injury often requires surgical intervention, Dr. Theodoulou was able to make a full recovery after six months with immobilization and rehabilitation.

Suffering the injury and its recovery "gave me insight into the management of elite athletes in the care of lower extremity injuries," Dr. Theodoulou said. This led him to seek a career in podiatry and foot/ankle surgery. Before coming to CHA, he maintained a podiatry practice in Washington, DC, and was the team podiatrist for the Washington Capitals hockey team.

Today at CHA, Dr. Theodoulou treats many soccer players. "Soccer has been a significant part of my life," he said. "I have enjoyed it as a participant, as a patient after my injury, and now treating those who also enjoy the game."

Having played professionally, Dr. Theodoulou has a unique perspective on soccer-related injuries. "The sport generates high demand on the lower extremities," he explained. "The foot and ankle are exposed to both acute injuries and chronic repetitive processes. These injuries can be highly complex and involve multiple structures that are critical for preservation of function and the ability to return to play."

As CHA's chief of podiatric surgery, Dr. Theodoulou and his team manage many soccer injuries. They often see digital and long bone metatarsal fractures, as athletes' feet are frequently stepped on. He also sees many high and low ankle sprains, as well as ruptures of the Achilles tendon. Athletes can also suffer from ankle injuries resulting from acute process, which could lead to arthritis if not properly treated.

Dr. Theodoulou suggests equal admiration for the athletes' skill and the performance of their feet and ankles during the World Cup. "As you watch the grand battle of the World Cup played out in the upcoming weeks, I hope you appreciate the incredible function of the foot and ankle in order to perform this sport at its highest level."

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