Serena’s Torn Toe Tendon Causes Her Lots of Troubles

As an athlete, how you care for your injuries is critical to continued and future athletic successes, regardless of whether you are one of my favorite local OSU Buckeye teams, a “weekend warrior” athlete, or a high-paid professional athlete. Tennis star Serena Williams unfortunately seems to be learning this lesson the hard way. Not only has Serena’s tennis career suffered this year, but this past week she had a much bigger problem when she developed a pulmonary embolism.

Back in July 2010, Serena was wearing sandals and stepped on glass at a restaurant in Munich. She did some pretty major damage and ended up having stitches in both feet. After returning to the U.S., an MRI was used to diagnose that the tendon of the extensor hallucis longus muscle in her right toe was torn. This muscle is important in lifting up the big toe and actually extends outside of the foot up the leg. Serena opted for surgery to repair the torn toe tendon.

After surgery, Serena was seen wearing a walking cast. This was an important stage in Serena’s healing process. Before starting back into playing, Serena should have been sure to obtain a proper fitting tennis shoe to support the foot and avoid “tennis toe“. This is where the toe jams against the front of shoe that is too small during the motions of tennis. While this can cause bleeding under the nail in a healthy foot, it could have been especially aggravating to the recently healed area of the big toe. Physical therapy and slowly easing back into tennis would have been the best route to Serena returning to tennis. However, three months later, Serena re-tore her tendon and had to have a second surgery. Being too eager to jump back into your sport can often result in the injury redeveloping or a new injury popping up from compensating for the not fully healed one.

Her two recent surgeries, and sitting on a plane for long periods of time as part of the celebrity athlete life were both factors leading up to a venous stasis and a deep vein thrombosis, or DVT. This is a clot in the deep veins of the leg or foot after loss of proper function of veins, often by an “injury” to the veins, possibly Serena’s initial injury. After surgery, such as the ones in Serena’s foot, tissue debris could have become irritated and formed a clot if proper precautions were not taken. Swelling in the legs and feet, and tenderness in the calf can both be warning signs that a DVT has formed. This is a life-threatening situation because the clot can get free and travel to form a pulmonary embolism.

A pulmonary embolism is a blood clot that blocks the flow of blood from the heart to the lungs. When this artery is blocked, not only can the blocked lung become deoxygenated and die, but the entire body will receive much less of the oxygenated blood it needs to survive. Luckily, Serena’s pulmonary embolism was caught early by her doctor and her life was saved.

Following your podiatric physician’s directions after any surgery is critical for a healthy and speedy recovery, especially for an athlete who wants to get back to their sport! It is also imperative to go in for regular post-operative check-up appointments and to schedule an extra appointment if you notice something is not healing right.

Please visit for more information or call 614-885 FEET (3338) to schedule an appointment with a podiatrist in Columbus, Ohio. Columbus Podiatry & Surgery is located on the North side of Columbus, Ohio near Worthington.

By Dr. Animesh (Andy) Bhatia