Rafael Nadal - Indian Wells 2022

Rafael Nadal foot injury: What is Mueller-Weiss syndrome?

If you were following tennis even remotely closely in 2022, you couldn’t help but be familiar with the Mueller-Weiss syndrome that afflicted Rafael Nadal.

It was a real talking point, especially in the first half of the season, and even led to some raising concerns about whether Nadal was doping in a bid to overcome it.

Those allegations were dismissed by the highest authorities on the matter, but Nadal’s injury is not going away. So, what do we know about Mueller-Weiss syndrome?

What is Mueller-Weiss syndrome? 

In simple terms, Mueller-Weiss syndrome is a very rare foot condition that is characterised by a misshaped navicular bone that causes early onset degenerative arthritis in neighbouring joints.

It especially affects the talonavicular joint and is especially problematic in tennis, especially when sliding, as it is at it’s worst when weight-bearing.

How has Mueller-Weiss syndrome affected Rafael Nadal? 

While the tennis world only really became conscious of Mueller-Weiss syndrome in 2022 when Rafael Nadal started talking about it, it is something he has been aware of for years.

He was actually diagnosed with the problem aged just 19, which was three years into his professional career.

Since then, it has been a case of managing the pain for Nadal, although he knew that it was a degenerative condition than would worsen with time.

“We have known for quite a few years that this is incurable, so anything that we tried would just be trying to lessen the pain, just enough for me to keep playing,” Nadal explained this year.

“It is the same thing that I have done throughout my career, even though, obviously, everything has a degenerative factor, as logic would dictate.”

The usual methods of pain management stopped working for Nadal in the summer of 2021, and he was forced to cut his season short to attempt to find alternative methods. It was serious enough to make him withdraw from the US Open, which should tell its own story.

It appeared to be under control again in 2022, but it affected him so badly at the French Open he required quite severe pain-killing injections ahead of each match and often warned it could be his last tournament because of how bad and ultimately unmanageable the pain had become.

Is there a treatment for Mueller-Weiss syndrome? 

There is no cure, as Rafael Nadal himself admitted. It’s a degenerative condition, after all.

There are ways to attempt to treat it, but none of them offer any guarantees and they certainly are not designed to withstand the kind of stress professional tennis puts on the foot.

First and foremost, a quality tennis shoe is advised. That is no problem for Rafael Nadal with Nike behind him tailoring his footwear to his every need.

Tennis shoes designed to help sliding, such as the ASICS Court FF range, will certainly help relieve the pressure for the average club player, as will using insoles with arch support, but what about medical treatments?

ASICS are the market leaders in terms of tennis shoes and have just released the new Court FF3 range, which Tennishead have reviewed.

The most recommended by far is the one that Nadal himself underwent. Following the 2022 French Open, he announced he would play Wimbledon – if a round of radiofrequency therapy worked.

It’s a quite invasive procedure that injects small transmitters into the foot and bombards an area with radio wave. It’s not a cure, but it is designed to dull the pain receptors in the area of the injury.

Nadal left the treatment on crutches, but he was indeed fit for Wimbledon and showing no visible effects of Mueller-Weiss syndrome.

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Matthew Johns, Tennishead Writer, is a professional tennis journalist with a specialist degree in Sports Journalism. He's a keen tennis player having represented his local club and University plus he's also a qualified tennis coach. Matthew has a deep knowledge of tennis especially the ATP Tour and thrives on breaking big tennis news stories for Tennishead.