Basketball is a fun, competitive sport that challenges the body in a variety of ways. It combines quick bursts of speed and athleticism with the endurance necessary to play a full game.
Basketball requires an athlete to run, jump and cut aggressively and consistently throughout gameplay. It’s no wonder, then, how commonly OrthoCarolina treats basketball players with overuse injuries.
The quick change-of-direction movements and repetitive jumping pose a unique challenge on our lower extremities. As a result, some of the most common overuse injuries we see in basketball include:
- Foot sprains
- Patellofemoral pain
- Muscle strains (quadriceps, hamstrings and calves)
- Shin splints
Foot & Ankle Injuries
Above and beyond, foot and ankle injuries are the most common basketball injuries, especially in younger athletes.
An inversion ankle sprain, or “rolled ankle,” is the most prevalent. This injury involves spraining the ligaments on the outside of the ankle, primarily the anterior talo-fibular ligament (ATF).
The silver lining of an inversion ankle sprain is the majority are not season ending and will resolve within a matter of days or weeks. Rehab involves reducing swelling with elevation, gentle motion and mobility work and icing as desired.
Smaller sprains may not need physical therapy. However, higher-grade sprains benefit greatly from a physical therapist-led rehab. A therapist’s guidance helps ensure an athlete does not return to the court in an injured or vulnerable state.
There is a slight chance what seems like a simple “rolled ankle” might be an avulsion fracture of the fibula, where a small piece of bone chips away from the ankle joint. In this instance, an athlete needs to use a walking boot and undergo formal PT before returning to the court.
Patellofemoral pain, or pain around the kneecap, is extremely common in any sport that involves repetitive jumping.
Fortunately for committed athletes, patellofemoral pain is a generally a self-limiting injury, which means that you can continue to play through it, depending on pain and limitation. If an athlete is unable to move properly, run or jump, then it’s time to seek formal intervention with a physical therapist.
Rehab for patellofemoral pain involves strengthening the hip, quad and glute muscles as well as assessing an athlete’s jumping and landing mechanics.
A faulty jumping or landing pattern can put increased stress on the knees and result in pain and instability. Strengthening your hips and glutes will help you absorb the load. Your glutes are big muscles, and big muscles do big things!
Soft Tissue Injuries
In basketball, soft tissue injuries and muscle strains muscle strains often occur with rapid acceleration or deceleration-based movements, whether it’s sprinting down the court on a fast break or driving to the basket for a layup.
Muscle strains frequently result from muscle weakness, tightness or a lack of rest and recovery. Rehab for athletic soft tissue injuries looks like light muscle activation to improve mobility and decrease pain followed by progressive strengthening and return to running/jumping based exercises.
When recovering from a muscle strain, it’s best for an athlete to complete progressive rehab before returning to the court for full-fledged play.
Injury prevention always starts with taking care of your body – making sure you are well-rested, eating healthy prior to an athletic event, staying hydrated and training properly to put yourself in the best position to succeed.
A proper warm up can help tremendously with decreasing the likelihood of soft tissue injuries. Static stretching is not enough to reduce your risk of injury.
Dynamic warm-up exercises not only prepare the body to run and jump, but also tune in the neuromuscular system to be aware of our body in space with landing mechanics.
There are a variety of programs that set a blueprint for dynamic warm ups for injury prevention, such as the FIFA 11+. Originally developed for soccer players, the FIFA 11+ structure can be replicated for an effective basketball warm up.
Conditioning Tips & Techniques
Conditioning can occur in a variety of ways, even starting from how many sports you play.
Playing multiple sports as opposed to specializing in one sport helps reduce the risk of overuse injury from repetitive motions. The changing of sports through seasons is a natural break for our bodies as they are challenged in different ways.
Following a proper strengthening program and working out in the off-season will also help you play better and stay healthier. An athlete who is out of shape coming into the season has an increased risk of injury and will not perform up to their expectations.
Within 6-8 weeks prior to the start of a new season, an athlete should be getting back into their conditioning shape to prepare their bodies for the upcoming demands. This can be challenging if you are going from one sport season to another, like from football to basketball.
Focusing your conditioning on aerobic and strength training will help you maintain good physical fitness to navigate season shifts and starts.
Zachary Woodley, PT, DPT, SCS, MBA, is a physical therapist and Sports Certified Specialist at OrthoCarolina South Park Physical & Hand Therapy.