Basketball Injuries: Prevention & Training Tips for Athletes

Since its invention in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith, a professor at the YMCA, basketball has grown tremendously. From fishing baskets on a small gym wall to powerful dunks in front of millions of fans, the sport has quickly changed from what it once was.

But as the speed and size of the players increased, basketball injuries became more common than ever. Even with today’s improved training programs and facilities, there is simply no way to avoid some of the physical damage that can occur during games.

However, understanding how to prevent and treat some of the most common basketball injuries can help you reduce your risk of injury in the first place, and give you the knowledge you need if the situation arises.

What are the most common basketball injuries?

Until recent years, there was little significant data on the number of injuries sustained by professional basketball players. But after a 17-year study conducted by the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) determined that for every 1,000 hours of basketball played, athletes can expect to sustain between 6 and 14 injuries. Of these injuries, the most common ones they found were as follows

  • Ankle sprains
  • Knee injuries
  • Deep thigh injuries
  • Scrambled fingers

Although no mandatory padding is required, basketball is well known as a contact sport. When players jostle for position, the subtle bumps and collisions they face cause injuries that can affect just about any part of the body. So, as with most contact sports, playing these sports exposes virtually every joint, ligament, bone and muscle to the risk of injury in one way or another. Here’s how to manage the most common basketball-related injuries, should you ever sustain one.

Ankle sprains

An ankle sprain can occur when the ankle is twisted, rolled or rotated abnormally, resulting in the stretching and/or tearing of one or more ankle ligaments. The injury is often recognized by the pain and resulting swelling, which often limits the person’s range of motion for at least a week. However, depending on the severity of the injury, it can take anywhere from a few days to a few months for a sprained ankle to heal properly.

Treatment of ankle sprains involves a protocol of rest, ice, compression and elevation (also called RICE), which helps control swelling and promotes the overall healing of the damaged ligament. In severe cases, your foot and ankle orthopedic specialist may ask you to undergo physical therapy to ensure that the ligament is healed back to its original state.

Preventing an ankle sprain is as simple as using proper equipment to play. This includes the use of basketball shoes that support the ankle, as well as extra splints or tape for people who are particularly prone to ligament injuries in this area.

Knee Injuries

Although not common, knee injuries are known to occur during the practice of basketball. They can range from simple joint pain to more serious injuries such as fractures and torn ligaments. Serious injuries such as torn anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL) and knee fractures are known to keep players from playing for a year or more.

Treatment of knee pain depends on the severity of the injury. While minor joint pain can usually be treated with RICE, more serious injuries require the attention of an orthopedic knee specialist. Using X-rays and MRIs, your doctors can determine the true severity of an injury, allowing them to make a correct diagnosis. Based on this diagnosis, surgery may be necessary, followed by physical therapy to strengthen the repaired ligament or joint.

Preventing knee injuries boils down to two things: preparation and flexibility. Ensuring proper muscle mechanics and balance helps prepare the body for unusual movements it may have to undergo. In addition, wearing a compression sleeve or knee brace can also help protect players from this type of injury.

Deep Contusions in the Thigh

A deep thigh contusion (or bruise) is a very common basketball injury that usually occurs when an elbow or knee inadvertently strikes a player’s thigh muscles. These types of bruises usually take about 4 to 8 weeks to heal, depending on their severity.

Treatment of deep thigh bruises involves the use of the RICE protocol, making sure to freeze and rest the affected area before resuming full activity.

Prevention of deep thigh bruising is difficult because injuries are often due to the speed and physical nature of the game. Compression sleeves and padded shorts can be worn to reduce the effect of the injury.

Scrambled fingers

A pinched finger occurs when the ball hits the top of the finger suddenly, locking the finger in one of its joints, usually causing pain and swelling.

Treating a stuck finger includes the use of ice and tape. Icing the finger is the main source of relief, followed by the use of “buddy tape,” which aligns the injured finger with an adjacent finger to protect the prone phalanx while it recovers.

Preventing a stuck finger is a matter of awareness. Being always ready for the ball, as well as understanding how it moves when it is in your hands, are the easiest ways to ensure you don’t get a finger stuck when playing basketball.

However, while these injuries are the most common injuries in basketball, it doesn’t mean that players aren’t prone to other, more serious injuries.

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