BOISE -- Boise doctor Michael Coughlin is renowned around the country for his knowledge of the foot. After more than 35 years in the profession, the orthopedic surgeon has seen it all, from twists and sprains to torn ligaments and broken bones. That is why the National Football League approached Coughlin seven years ago to tackle the issue of rising foot injuries across the league.
"They wanted somebody who could be transparent and not affiliated. And Boise is about as non-affiliated as you can get, it's about as far away from any NFL team in the country," Coughlin said.
A college football fan at heart, Coughlin agreed to look into the issue, along with a group of like-minded doctors. After years of research, including a three-year, $2 million study at the University of Virginia, their findings were troubling.
"We looked at the numbers, and the three injuries that are really most serious are turf toes in the big toe, mid-foot injuries, and then high ankle sprains. They really are quite common."
In Coughlin's expert opinion, the number of these injuries could be reduced greatly with the help of shoe companies.
"It's really the cleat pattern and the stiffness of the shoe that we found makes the difference."
He says stiffer shoes give better support to the foot. They could help prevent debilitating injuries like turf toe, a joint injury to the big toe, and other foot injuries.
But it's not big money or glory that causes Coughlin to work to improve the future of athlete's feet.
"I'm not paid to do this. It's red-eyes, staying in kind of mediocre hotels, flying overnight to get back to work here in Boise," he says.
He simply wants to help players be healthier.
On Monday, Coughlin and his team met in New York with the NFL and the heads of the biggest shoe companies in the country to discuss their recent findings. Coughlin hopes new regulations will come from the meeting, and thinks footwear may become safer in-turn.
"I know there is some science from the shoe companies, but we would like to consolidate that and be partners in this with both the shoe companies and the NFL," Coughlin said. "And the real beneficiary will be the player."
Coughlin hopes that his work will help all players, ranging from the NFL all the way downto the prep level.
"That's what really is special for me," Coughlin said. "We might have a Boise High or a Bishop Kelly player who might avoid an injury because of the shoe wear that they wear is very similar to the NFL players."