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Ask the Expert: Basketball Injuries

playing basketball

In this week’s installment of Ask the Expert, Theresa Chiaia, Physical Therapist and Section Manager of the James M. Benson Sports Rehabilitation Center and Tisch Performance Center, answers questions on basketball injuries.

What are the most common basketball injuries?

The legs or lower extremities account for most of the injuries in basketball. These injuries can be traumatic (acute), occurring from a direct cause, or non-traumatic (chronic), gradually occurring over time. Ankle sprains are the most common traumatic injuries. These injuries occur most often when a player lands on another player’s foot. The ligaments (connect bone to bone) on the outside of the ankle are stretched when the player rolls his/her ankle. The knee is the second most injured area in the legs during basketball. Sprains, which are injuries to ligaments, are common. Anterior cruciate ligament tears (ACL) tears occur most commonly when landing from a jump, decelerating or changing direction (non-contact). Non-traumatic knee injuries which cause anterior knee pain or pain in the front of the knee, such as patellofemoral (kneecap) pain and jumper’s knee (patellar tendonitis), occur from training errors, repetitive loading from running and jumping, and muscle imbalances (tightness or weakness).

Is there a common demographic where these injuries can be seen the most?

It has been shown that injuries occur more frequently in games than in practice, and the risk of injury increases as the level of competition decreases which may be a result of skill level or age. Injuries to the ankle and knee occur more frequently in females than males. The majority of basketball injuries are contact injuries, which means there was contact with another player. Girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are more prone to non-contact knee injuries. During a recent ten year period, head injuries increased two-fold in boys, and three-fold in girls.

What are your recommendations for prevention?

Getting ready to play basketball is important. Be prepared for the demands of basketball. Basketball is a physically challenging sport which requires power, speed, quickness, the ability to jump and land, change direction, run forward and backwards, move sideways and stop and start rapidly. Building a foundation of movement patterns/strategies that are required in sport is where it starts. Development of these movement strategies then leads into improving performance with strength training, balance, cardiovascular fitness, flexibility to meet the demands of basketball. Finally, basketball skills are practiced as well as developing an alert mind body connection. Prevention programs have been shown to decrease the risk of non-contact lower extremity injury in basketball and soccer players. It is imperative to include rest periods in training cycles so the player’s mind and body stay fresh.

Does injury prevention only pertain to exercising?

Other than exercising, equipment is important in injury prevention: The use of age appropriate ball size may help minimize some injuries such as finger injuries. Wearing an ankle brace may help protect ankle from injury. High top sneakers may also minimize ankle injuries. Although touted as a non-contact sport, there is contact during play. Maintaining a certain standard of play can help control the playing environment and minimize the severity of contact injuries

When is it time to seek medical help if the pain doesn’t go away?

Traumatic injuries require medical attention. A visit to a sports medicine professional such as a primary care sports medicine physician, an orthopedist, and ultimately to a physical therapist will help the athlete receive the proper care, minimize the deleterious effects of the injury, and return the athlete to play sooner and safer. Non-traumatic injuries require medical help when the pain doesn’t go away, becomes more severe, lingers after participation and/or changes in any way. As with traumatic injuries, the sports medicine professional can help the basketball player feel better sooner, and recommend a treatment plan to address the cause of the problem.

Reviewed on August 16, 2019

Image - Theresa Chiaia

Theresa Chiaia, PT, DPT is the Section Manager of the James M. Benson Sports Rehabilitation Center and Tisch Sports Performance Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. She has been part of the HSS Women’s Sports Medicine Center since its inception and has guided athletes of all levels along the road to recovery and a successful return to competition.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.