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Sport Specific Injuries: Basketball

By Alan Williams, PT, OTR/L, ATC, CSCS

In 1891, Dr. James Naismith invented a game to keep his P.E. students fit during the winter months. It involved a simple ball and a peach basket nailed to a gymnasium wall. In the almost 120 years since, basketball’s popularity has exploded. The sport’s influence ranges from basketball baby toys up to the NBA and even the Olympics, and it’s almost impossible to find someone who doesn’t know at least the basics of how to play.

Although it’s not considered full-contact, basketball can often be rough, and participating in the sport is not without risks. Basketball injuries generally fall into two categories: 1) Acute injuries, and 2) Overuse injuries.

Acute injuries are those that happen suddenly or those you can pinpoint to a specific event or moment. Some of the most common acute injuries I see in basketball players are:

1. Finger sprains
2. Muscle pulls or tears
3. Ankle sprains
4. Tears of vital structures in the knee, such as the ACL, meniscus, etc.

Overuse injuries are just like they sound – the area is injured from overuse, especially if proper rest and care aren’t taken between bouts of activities. Commonly these injuries present as tendonitis (the name given to inflammation of a tendon). The overuse injuries I typically see in basketball players are:

1. Patellar tendonitis (also known as “jumper’s knee”)
2. Achilles tendonitis
3. Rotator cuff tendonitis
4. Shin splints (typically, but not always, caused by inflammation of the muscles in the front of the leg)

No one wants a season-ending injury, so it’s important for athletes to know how to both manage their injuries and how to best prevent them from happening in the first place.

Acute injuries can be difficult to prevent since they often “just happen,” but they’re more likely to happen when your body undergoes sudden stress for which it has not been prepared. Therefore, the best preventative medicine is keep your body primed for your sport.

Stay in shape, even in the off season. It’ll be much harder to get where you need to be if you have to start from square one each year. In addition, when you’re tired, your form tends to get sloppy and injuries are more likely. It’s okay to taper your workouts down after the season ends, but don’t go total couch potato.
Focus on balanced strength training; injuries often happen when one muscle overpowers or overcompensates for the weakness of another. For example, many people have strong quads (front thigh muscles) but weak hamstrings (back thigh muscles). This is a recipe not only for hamstring pulls, but also knee problems.
Always warm-up before activity and cool-down afterwards.
STRETCH! I can’t emphasize this enough. Flexibility is crucial in preventing all kinds of injuries. Stretch each major muscle group as thoroughly as you can as often as you can, but also pay special attention to your individual trouble spots. For example, if you have stiff or weak ankles that often sprain, sit with one leg extended in front of you and write the alphabet with your toes. Switch sides and repeat often for stronger, more flexible ankles.
• Lastly, proper nutrition and adequate hydration will help your body be its best so you can play your best.

Despite the greatest of intentions, injuries still sometimes occur, and it’s important to know how to care for them right away.

Treat minor injuries with R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) and visit your physical therapist or doctor if you don’t see improvement within 7 days.
Take time off if you need it. It’s better to miss one week of the season and return well healed than to play at half-strength because of an injury (which will grow worse and may eventually bench you permanently).
• If your injury is truly not bad enough to prevent you from playing, use protective gear the next time you step on the court. This includes braces for knees, ankles, and wrists, as well as orthotic inserts (such as shock absorbing insoles to aid shin splints) and tape (for example, “buddy taping” a sprained finger to the finger next to it for added stability).

Basketball was created for fun and fitness, and despite its often competitive nature, it’s best when played as originally intended. So keep playing, but take care of yourself along the way. Good luck at your next game!

Don’t let an injury keep you off the court. Call 463-0022 today for your FREE Pain Assessment!

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