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Sport Specific Injuries: Volleyball

While my girls were in high school (three girls over the course of eight years), our household lived and breathed volleyball. They played on their school team (which twice was the Idaho state champion and another year was the runner-up) from August through October, then began the club volleyball season, which lasted from November until July. Between practices, games, and traveling to out-of-state tournaments, it was truly a year-round commitment for the entire family, but it was so much fun, we rarely thought of it that way.

With so much volleyball all the time, we became very familiar with all the common injuries faced by volleyball players. As with most injuries, they fall neatly into two categories – acute (meaning sudden or short-term) and chronic (meaning long-term). Here’s a quick run-down of the most frequently seen ailments:

Shoulders, shoulders, shoulders! Because so much of the game of volleyball requires overhead movements (setting, serving, hitting, and blocking), athletes must constantly battle overuse syndrome in their shoulders, especially rotator cuff tendonitis and surpascapular neuropathy (irritation and compression of the nerve along the shoulder blade). If your pain is sudden and intense, you should see your physical therapist or doctor to rule out a torn rotator cuff.
Sprains are very common in fingers, wrists, and ankles. These generally happen when blocking (from a ball striking the fingers or when landing awkwardly, such as on the foot of a teammate) and diving (inexperienced players often try to catch themselves to lessen their impact with the floor, thus putting strain on their wrists).
• Because volleyball involves more jumping than just about any other sport (except maybe competitive trampoline), many players develop “jumper’s knee,” which is also called patella tendonitis. This is an overuse syndrome involving the tendon that connects the kneecap to the tibia. Care must always be taken to keep the tendon in good condition, lest it rupture.
• As with any sport that involves twisting, diving, and jumping, back problems occasionally develop, but they are more common in athletes with less flexibility, poorer conditioning, and improper technique.
• Speaking of flexibility, muscle strains also happen from time to time, although they are much rarer in athletes that regularly play volleyball. You are more likely to experience a pulled muscle if you play after an inadequate warm-up, return after a long lay-off, lack good physical conditioning, or are tired and/or dehydrated.
Bruises are one of the hallmarks of a volleyball player (for those who don’t know, bruises are caused by broken capillaries that bleed under the skin); they typically appear on knees, hip bones, and elbows. Although they aren’t generally serious, care should be taken to allow damaged capillaries time to heal; repeated bashing of an already bruised area can lead to a hematoma (a swollen lump) and the risk of compartment syndrome (where blood flow is cut off to the involved tissue).
• Of course, every sport has the risk of more serious injuries, and volleyball is no exception – knee ligaments may tear from a sudden change in direction, wrists and/or fingers may break or dislocate, and players may collide with one another and receive a concussion.

Fortunately volleyball is not a true contact sport, so it’s relatively easy to prevent these injuries.

Stay in shape, with adequate cardiovascular, strengthening, flexibility, and plyometric components to your workouts.
Wear protective gear. This usually means kneepads, but you can also wear ankle, knee, and wrist braces, mouth guards, and athletic tape (for areas that just need a little help rather than injuries that require more substantial support).
Learn proper technique for all activities.
Be aware of your surroundings on the court so you do not run into another player or other obstacle.
• Get adequate rest, and treat all minor injuries with R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation). Remember that in general, the longer you’ve had an injury, the longer it will take to go away, so don’t delay treatment.

Volleyball is one of my favorite sports to watch, and for my now-grown girls, it’s still their favorite to play. Follow the above tips for a more injury-free season and make sure you’re always ready to step on the court. Keep moving, my friends!

– Alan

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