Basketball injuries are something you have experienced if you have played basketball long enough. The contact nature and ballistic movements of the game lend themselves to an array of potential setbacks. Proper rest, a healthy diet, efficient pre-practice and pre-game warm-up, and strength training, stretching and prehab exercises will go a long way in helping you stay on the court and out of the doctor’s office and trainer’s room.
Unfortunately, injuries may occur no matter what precautions you take to them. Colliding with another player, landing on another players foot as you return to the floor from a jump, and striking the floor awkwardly while diving for a loose ball are just a few ways that can lead to time in the doctor’s office. This can be extremely frustrating when you have taken all other action necessary to injuries from occurring in the first place.
Being proactive with the knowledge of your injury, treatment protocol, and recovery process will equip you with the tools necessary to limit the amount of time you are sidelined. Consider some of the following found in a study by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association on high school basketball players and their prevalence:
The most common type of injuries were sprains at 43% of all injuries
General trauma checked-in as the second most common type of injury sustained at 22% of all injuries
9% of the injuries were of the knee
Ankle and foot injuries made up 42% of all injuries
59% of injuries that occurred in-game, happened in the 2nd half when players were tired
Practice produced 60% of the injuries where players probably were not properly warmed-up
A basic understanding of the injuries that most commonly affect basketball players can help you avoid them altogether and provide you with a “second opinion” of treatment modalities. It is never prudent to self-assess or limit your learning to only one source. Always schedule an appointment with your physician to receive an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Most non-surgical treatment plans will include applying the RICE method and taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). So, if you have sustained an injury on the court, there is a good chance it is one of the following most common basketball-related injuries:
– The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in your knee is responsible for limiting joint mobility. A tear in this ligament can be quite debilitating and can cost you the remainder of your season (up to nine months recovery time). Surgery and an intensive post-op rehab program will be required in order for you to return to your previous level of competition. It was once believed that ACL tears typically occurred during a maximum load. Recent however, suggests that the ACL is gradually weakened by micro-trauma created during sub-maximal loading. Over time, this accumulation of damage may result in an ACL tear from a sub-maximal load.
– The medial collateral ligament helps stabilize the knee. An injury to the MCL occurs when valgus force (knees angled inward) is too great. Depending upon the severity of the injury, most MCL injuries with a rehab program – consisting of reducing inflammation, strengthening, range of motion, and balance exercises – have a healing time of 6 weeks to 4 months. Only the most severe MCL injuries will require surgery.
– A concussion is an injury to the brain. This occurs when the brain is shaken inside of the skull due to a forceful blow to the head area. , a concussion can occur when your head collides with another player or by hitting the floor. Medical personnel should be notified immediately if a concussion is suspected.
Symptoms include headaches, confusion, dizziness, nausea, sensitivity to light, and difficulty concentrating. Headaches can also be exacerbated when concentrating. Treatment usually involves resting both your body and brain. Return to action is on an individual basis and should begin slowly and with a physician’s approval.
– Fractures of the nose are the most commonly injured area of the face. They can occur by colliding with another player, an elbow to the face, or a basketball that hits you square in the face. Without proper care, a nose fracture can lead to permanent disfigurement of the nose and possible breathing problems.
Depending upon the severity of the blow to the head, make sure that no other injury to the head region has occurred, such as a concussion or neck injury. If it is clear that your nose is broken, go to an emergency room to be evaluated. A specialist may be necessary to reset the nose so that the bones don’t set permanently in a “broken” position. Usually, this needs to be done in a few days to a week and a half so that you do not risk any permanent defects.
– Facial wounds will most likely cause you to leave a practice or game to seek treatment. The severity of the injury will dictate whether or not you need to seek professional treatment. If the facial cut is deep, more than likely you will need medical
treatment. Also, if the cut is so wide that the edges cannot be squeezed together, stitches will be needed in order for it to heal properly.
Keeping the wound clean throughout the healing process will reduce the chance of infection. If your wound does not require stitches, apply as your treatment. Although your attention may be placed on your bleeding facial injury, do not sleep on a potential head (concussion) and/or neck injury as well. The following types of injuries to your face are the most common:
A bloody nose
– Similar to a broken nose but not as severe. A collision with another player, a basketball hitting you square in the face, or a flailing elbow by another player are common causes of a bloody nose.
A cut to the eye area
– An injury to the eye area is usually caused by a collision with another player or elbow to the face.
A bloody lip
– An injury to the lip area can be pretty messy if teeth and/or braces are involved. Tissue damage can become extensive if both inside and outside of the mouth are damaged.
An abrasion to the face
– Sliding across the floor on your face can remove a layer or two of skin, but seldom requires medical attention.
– Fingers get jammed when ligaments in the joints of your fingers are strained or stretch too far. This can occur when a finger absorbs excessive force from an incoming basketball or accidentally “hitting” another player.
Because a jammed finger is not broken, the injury is seldom serious. Taping your finger to a non-affected neighbor finger or wearing a splint on your injured finger will help stabilize and immobilize it until the ligaments heal. A cloth-covered bag of ice may be used to help reduce swelling and inflammation. Ice you finger for 15 minutes at a time.
– A knee sprain occurs when there is an injury to one of the four ligaments of the knee. A knee sprain can lead to knee instability. Depending upon the severity of the injury, recovery time can be a couple of weeks to a full year. Symptoms of a knee sprain may include swelling, pain/ache, instability, stiffness, reduction of range of motion, and inflammation (knee warmth).
Strained Leg Muscles (Groin, Hamstring, Calf)
– A strained muscle in the leg is a result of a tear or stretch in muscle fibers. This typically occurs when a muscle is overstretched. Muscle soreness, swelling, weakness, discoloration, painful walking, and visibly changed muscle shape are all symptoms of a strained leg muscle.
The degree of injury to the muscle fibers determines the severity of the situation. A Grade of I, II, and III are used to differentiate the extent of fiber damage, with a grade of I the least severe and III being the most. Your physician will assess the level of severity and put you on a treatment protocol.
The recovery of Grade I and Grade II injuries typically lasts a couple of months and a Grade III requires surgery and post-op rehab. Applying the RICE method to a Grade I or II injury is typically prescribed: Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevate.
– Strains are injuries to muscles or tendons and sprains are injuries to ligaments. These injuries are a result of an overstretching or tearing of the tissue. Stopping and starting, lateral movements, and jumping make ankle strains and sprains quite common in the game of basketball.
The severity of your injury will dictate the mode of treatment. Using the RICE method for the first 48 hours will help alleviate some of your symptoms especially for mild strains and sprains. Surgery may be required if any of your tendons or ligaments are torn. Mild to moderate injuries will take a couple of days to a couple of weeks to heal. You may want to have your doctor evaluate your injury if your symptoms persist for longer than a couple of weeks. To help prevent ankle injuries, make sure you warm-up and stretch prior to every practice and game.
Patellar Tendonitis (Acute) or Patellar Tendinosis (Chronic)
– The patella tendon helps hold the kneecap in place. An overuse injury to this tendon (above and below the tendon) is so common to basketball players that it is also known as jumper’s knee. Pain occurs below the knee and can last several months to a year.
Patellar tendonitis and tendinosis is best treated with the RICE method and physical therapy. Light stretching and eccentric quadricep contractions may also be recommended by your doctor and/or physical therapist. Rest is the most important form of treatment but also the most unpopular due to most people’s desire to get back on the court. To fully recover it may take several months of treatment and rest.
Achilles Tendonitis, Tendinosis, or Rupture
– The Achilles tendon attaches your calf muscles to your heel bones. An injury to this tendon is common, especially when playing basketball. They often occur when exploding off the floor to sprint down the court, jumping for a rebound, or moving laterally when playing defense.
The three types of injury to a tendon are:
– An inflammation of the tendon; usually caused by repetitive motion.
– A chronic tendonitis condition characterized by small tears in the tendon.
– A complete or partial separation of the tendon from the heel bone or that same degree of separation somewhere in the middle of the tendon.
Pain is an obvious symptom that can range from mild to severe based on the degree of damage. When a tear of the tendon occurs, you may hear a pop followed by bruising, swelling, and stiffness.
Surgery, followed by physical therapy, will be necessary in order to return to your previous level of basketball activity. Minor injuries may take several weeks to months to heal based on their severity. In addition to applying the RICE method and taking an anti-inflammatory medication (if recommended by your doctor), light stretching and strengthening exercises can be of some benefit to getting you back on the court sooner rather than later.
– Osgood-Schlatter disease is inflammation right below the kneecap on the patellar ligament. It typically effects boys and girls during puberty ages 10 to 15 while bones are still growing. Running and jumping activities pose the greatest risk to developing Osgood-Schlatter disease because of the forceful contractions placed on the quadriceps (front of the upper thigh).
Resting, icing, and stretching the quadricep muscles until the ligament is no longer inflamed is the prescribed treatment. Anti-inflammatory medications may be necessary if the previous treatments listed above are ineffective. Osgood-Schlatter disease will typically continue until your bones finish growing – this could last months to years.
Most basketball-related injuries are unavoidable. However, by taking preventable measures – strength training program, prehab, balance and agility exercises, anti-inflammatory diet, etc. – you can reduce the severity and time spent recovering from them.
Questions To Ask Your Doctor After Basketball Injuries
Most people do not ask enough “right” questions when they meet with their doctor. Inevitably, you will find yourself not knowing what to do when certain situations with your injury arise. Knowing what questions to ask your doctor is essential to handling your treatment effectively. It also puts you and your doctor on the same page and demonstrates that you will be diligent and compliant with your prescribed treatment. Make sure you ask the following questions.
What is my injury?
What are my different treatment options?
What outcome should I expect?
When will I be able to play basketball at 100% again?
How long can I expect the pain and/or swelling to persist?
Ice or heat? How long for each?
Is there anything I can do on my own to improve my condition?
Do I need an MRI? X-Ray?
How soon will I get the results of the MRI?
Will someone call me with the results or do I need to call your office?
What is my treatment plan? Surgery? Physical Therapy?
If I am prescribed physical therapy, what level of pain should I allow myself to experience when performing the physical therapy exercises?
Will I be taking any medications?
If prescribed medication(s), are there any foods or other medications I shouldn’t take while taking this new medication?
Can I drive a car while on this medication?
What are the side-effects of my prescribed treatment (medications, physical therapy, etc.)?
If my injury does not require surgery, how long will it take to heal?
Will my injury continue to give me problems or will it totally heal?
What are the possible setbacks?
What questions have I not asked you (doctor) that I should have?
Learning about your injury is not limited to these questions. Knowledge is power so, the more information you have, the better off you will be. Follow instructions, be compliant, and gather as much information as possible for a fast and effective recovery.
Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is to assist basketball players in asking their doctors the correct questions regarding their injuries so that they can return to action as safely and soon as possible. It is not intended to diagnose, prescribe, or treat an injury. Consult with your licensed physician or healthcare professional for his or her professional advice before beginning any treatment protocol.
Rusty Gregory, MS, CSCS is the coauthor of (Wiley Publishing). He received his B.S. (Commercial and Industrial Fitness, Minor in Health Education) in 1989 from Texas Tech University and his M.S. (Kinesiology) in 1991 from the University of Michigan. In 1991, he began his personal training business in Austin, Texas, and became a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). In 1995, he opened Forte Personal Fitness, a private personal fitness studio where he trains athletes from a multitude of sports and people of all ages, health backgrounds, and physical limitations.