The modern basketball game is becoming increasingly physical and involves more contact between players than ever before. Players are coached to use their bodies to fight for position and to ward off defenders. As the sport continues to evolve into a contact sport, it is not surprising that the number of injuries is increasing. Basketball injuries can be categorised as acute or cumulative. The acute injuries arise suddenly and are often caused by an incident on court. The cumulative injuries are overuse issues that develop over a period of time.
Acute basketball injuries
There are several common acute basketball injuries that arise from moving around the court, handling the ball or contact with another player.
Ankle sprains are the single most common acute injury in basketball players. The three lateral aspect ankle ligaments are found on the outside of the ankle joint. When a player moves quickly to the side, the tendons can become stretched or torn. This can also happen when a player lands on another player’s foot after a jump. A sprained ankle is treated with rest, ice, compression and elevation. Most sprains resolve within a few weeks.
Knee injuries are commonly suffered by basketball players. The ligaments in the knee are vulnerable when landing from a jump, sprinting, colliding with another player, falling awkwardly or suddenly changing direction. Injuries to both the MCL (medial collateral ligament) and ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) are commonly reported in basketball players. There are varying grades of ligament damage ranging from a minor stretch to a complete tear that requires surgery. Minor injuries get better by themselves within a few weeks, but it can take up to six months to recover from surgery.
There is a condition associated with sports such as basketball called ‘Jumper’s knee’. It is an injury to the patellar tendon. This fibrous structure connects the quad muscle to bone and connects the patella (kneecap) to the tibia (lower leg bone). Basketball players jump and land repeatedly and this can exert stress on the patellar tendon. When inflammation of the tendon is triggered by an acute incident, it is called tendonitis. The best remedy is rest, together with gentle stretching and anti-inflammatories. Many basketball moves require a powerful rotation of the knee while the foot is firmly planted. This can cause a tear of the meniscus, which is the cushioning pad inside the knee. Again, this is treated with ice and rest.
Another part of the body that is put under a lot of stress during basketball moves is the Achilles tendon. This is the fibrous structure at the back of the leg which attaches the calf muscles to the heel bone. It can suddenly rupture whilst training or during a match. This is a serious injury that will require surgery and a lengthy period of rehabilitation.
All contact sports present the risk of concussion when players collide with each other or with hard surfaces. Basketball is no exception. The symptoms of concussion are very variable and can include a headache, dizziness and feeling sick. Medical attention is required for most cases of concussion and players should only return to playing basketball when they have been passed as fit to play by a doctor.
‘Finger jamming’ is extremely common in basketball. A typical injury occurs as a player tries to intercept a pass and hits the tip of an outstretched finger on the ball. The finger is ‘jammed’ back in towards the hand. It is rare for any bones to get broken, but tendon damage is common. Prompt treatment is the key to a quick recovery, especially if the finger is swelling. Rest and ice are recommended.
Overuse injuries in basketball
As the name suggests, overuse injuries arise because a muscle, joint, tendon or ligament has been placed under too much stress for too long and has not been allowed sufficient time to rest and heal.
They are first noticed as nagging discomfort, but they can soon evolve into very painful and debilitating conditions which can impact a player’s ability to train and take part in matches.
The most common overuse injury in basketball is tendinosis. This describes inflammation of a tendon that is similar to tendonitis but that lasts longer and is caused by overuse. All tendons in the body are vulnerable, but the injury is most likely to occur in the patella tendon in basketball players. It can be successfully treated with rest and anti-inflammatory medication.
Chronic Achilles tendonitis can present in basketball players as a pain at the back of the ankle just above the heel. Players often report that it is worse in the mornings. In the upper limbs, rotator cuff tendonitis is felt as shoulder pain. It is the part of the joint that is used when moving the arm up and down and rotating it. It is common for pain to be experienced when shooting hoops.
Preventing basketball injuries
Overuse injuries are caused by a lack of proper rest, inadequate warm-ups or poor conditioning. They can be largely avoided by appropriate training regimes and carefully planned warm-up sessions.
There are plenty of ways to avoid acute injury. Again, warm-ups are essential. Players must wear supportive basketball shoes that have skid-resistant soles. Protective equipment, including knee and elbow pads, are useful. Learning good techniques and playing by the rules are equally important.
Courts must be checked for slippery spots or debris before play starts and a first aid kit must be on hand. Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water will also help.
The risk of acute injuries can be reduced with strengthening and stretching exercises and neuromuscular training programmes focussing on the knee and ankle. Once a player suffers a knee or ankle injury, taping or bracing can help to reduce the chances of a repeat injury. A patellar tendon strap is a typical example.
Some basketball injuries are unavoidable. However, with the proper training, conditioning and treatment, the time lost due to injuries can be significantly reduced.