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As Pro Basketball Players Soar, Marquette Exercise Expert Worries About Knees, Ankles & Feet

Milwaukee Bucks
Chuck Quirmbach
Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo drives to the basket June 23, versus the Atlanta Hawks.

The Milwaukee Bucks, and the longtime hope for a sports championship in the city, have captured the attention of many people. But the physical demands on basketball players, and the risk of injury, mean any team knows its lofty goals can crumple in an instant.

So, there are many efforts to keep NBA players healthy. Some of the lessons apply for any athlete.

Any pro or college basketball player, even some high school ones, typically are highly coordinated. All that running, jumping, passing and accurate shooting.

The fans notice.

Prior to the Bucks game against the Atlanta Hawks Wednesday night, WUWM asked fan Terrance Graham to describe the physical talents of Giannis Antetokounmpo and the other members of the team.

"To see athletes like that, it's shocking. It's amazing to me because Giannis is a freak. You got Khris Middleton, who can shoot the ball, you got Jrue [Holiday.] Just the whole Bucks!" Graham exclaimed.

Then, during the game, many players showed off those talents. Antetokounmpo jumped high for dunks, rebounds and to block shots, as fans roared their approval for the Bucks superstar.

20210613_125018 (1).jpg
Chuck Quirmbach
Bucks fans gather for a playoff game on June 13. One of the players pictured on the Fiserv Forum, Donte DiVincenzo (second from the left), is out of the playoffs due to a torn ligament in his ankle.

Chris Simenz is another Bucks fan — one that studies the players' movements. He's a professor of physical therapy and exercise science at Marquette University. Simenz played high school basketball in Sheboygan and says he continued recreationally until 15 years ago, after his last set of knee surgeries.

Simenz says the stress on the bodies of NBA players is incredible.

"The physical force when it comes to doing things like jumping, cutting, stopping, starting are much more than normal bodies can take. So, if we went out and tried to do the things they did, we'd be injured almost instantaneously," he says.

Extended Interview With Chris Simenz

Simenz explains the lower extremities are extremely at risk. "So, ankle sprains are the most common basketball injury. Feet, knees, hips, spine because those forces travel up. We hit the ground with our feet, but the forces travel up our body and wind up landing somewhere in that space. And if there are weak links, if there are weak musculatures, there are movement imperfections, we wind up seeing injuries in those spaces," he says.

Simenz says the compressed schedule the NBA played this year, with typically fewer days between games, has boosted the chance of injury. He says other variables include the age of the player, with older ones typically more at risk of getting hurt. The number of minutes played per game and the number of playoff games also need to be factored in.

Chris Simenz
Marquette University
Chris Simenz is a professor of physical therapy and exercise science at Marquette University.

Simenz says year-round training, including weightlifting, has strengthened many NBA bodies. He also advocates better body positioning, especially for knees.

"So, one of the things we're looking at when we talk about positioning training, or movement training, is getting people to make cuts, getting people to make changes of direction, getting people to make stops and starts, while keeping their bodies aligned properly to reduce those injury risks," he says.

Simenz also says shoe companies have made improvements in their product.

But he also emphasizes for the pro, or amateur, basketball player — and other athletes — to use moderation in their activities.

At Marquette's RecPlex facility on Wisconsin Avenue, pick-up basketball games are again a big thing as cases of COVID-19 decrease. MU alum Cy Cullen says he often plays here.

At 62 years old, he says being on wooden floors instead of cement or asphalt is helpful. And so is his occasional postgame routine, "in the form of a hot tub, sauna downstairs. So that would soothe my muscles," Cullen explains.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of basketball fans across the area hope for the tonic of an NBA title for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August 2018. He focuses his longform stories on health, innovation, science, technology, transportation, utilities and business.
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