Ben Uzoh Diagnosed With Thoracic Outlet Syndrome in 2014
The Philadelphia 76ers are 19-10 to start the season. Despite the strong start, though, their depth has remained an issue. One player who we hoped would provide some of that depth this season was 2017 No. 1 pick, Markelle Fultz. Following a long summer of training to rebuild his shot, Fultz came back to the Sixers and started, but his performances were still very lacking, despite some progress shown from time to time.
After a mid-November game against the Suns, Fultz went to go see numerous specialists at the request of his agent/attorney and after a long process, the former top pick was diagnosed with neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome. The condition involves compression of the nerves in the brachial plexus, which control movement of the shoulder girdle, arm and hands.
Thoracic outlet syndrome is an injury/condition that is more commonly found in pitchers, but there have been some similar cases to Fultz in the NBA. Landry Fields had nerve damage in his elbow, which caused him to have a hitch in his shot, which he tried to re-work. The injury, for him, derailed his career. It's worth pointing out that Fields had nerve damage, while Fultz's condition is more of a compression of nerves issue.
There's one former NBA player that actually got the same thoracic outlet syndrome diagnosis of Fultz -- Ben Uzoh. Between 2010-2012, Uzoh played 60 NBA games between the Nets, Cavs and Raptors, but he didn't get the diagnosis until 2014. Uzoh first started experiencing symptoms of TOS in college at the University of Tulsa during the 2009-10 season, losing feeling in his right shooting arm as a senior. In a recent interview with The Undefeated with Marc Spears, Uzoh said that it looked like Markelle had the injury dating back to Summer League 2017.
Ben Uzoh was worried Philadelphia 76ers guard Markelle Fultz might have thoracic outlet syndrome way back in the summer of 2017.
“It looked to me like Markelle had the injury when I saw him play during a summer league game,” Uzoh told The Undefeated recently.
Following the announcement of Fultz's diagnosis, Uzoh was relieved for him because now Markelle can have someone to relate with about the issue.
“When I first heard he was diagnosed with it, I had a lot of people reach out to me and say, ‘Is this the same thing you had and were dealing with?’ I was like, ‘Yep,’ ” Uzoh told The Undefeated.
“I need to see him. I was relieved for him. It brought peace and closure to me when I learned about it, as well as I hope it did for him. I’m sure he saw a lot of people just like I had to.”
What's interesting about Uzoh's situation is that he didn't reveal that there was something affecting his play physically until joining Canton in the G-League back in 2014. While in the NBA, he tried to change the way he shot, getting massages and ice treatment and doing specific stretching exercises.
He mentioned to Canton's head coach Steve Hetzel that he had a physical problem disrupting his play, but the team doctors were unable to find a solution to his issues. At that point, Hetzel said that Uzoh was "shut down mentally" and that "he went from one of the best players in the league to us playing four on five". Hetzel once benched Uzoh for not competing during a practice because of the injury and he was waived in March 2014.
“You can call it frustration, you can call it fear, you can call it whatever,” Uzoh said in 2014. “I was so in the dark. I was hurting not only the team but myself.”
As for recovery, Uzoh said he felt much better after learning how to manage the injury. He's played professionally overseas in Africa and Belgium. Recently, he's played a big part in helping Nigeria win all eight games to qualify for the 2019 World Cup in China.
Uzoh plans to reach out to Fultz's representatives and hopefully meet with the former top pick about this ailment and how it can be as much an issue mentally as it is physically.
“Listen to his body and take it a day at a time,” Uzoh said. “Therapy and his mental approach are No. 1. Stay away from things that would distract him as far as Instagram, the tweets and things like that. All of those things can negate and throw him off instead of speed him up. He probably has a timeline he has to follow. He has to stay the course in terms of what his people are telling him and with the course of action in place.
“It can be a long grind. A rigorous, day-to-day grind. He will see results, take one step back and two steps forward.”
Fultz is currently in California working with former Lakers physical therapist, Dr. Judy Seto. She's been working in physical therapy since 1985 and is known to have been Kobe Bryant's "secret weapon".
Despite the fact that Fultz is rehabbing his injury, the Pistons and Magic have reportedly expressed interest in trading for him.
Brandon Apter is a Sixers contributor to 97.3 ESPN. Follow him on Twitter @bapter23.