Before we talk about injury prevention, let’s look at what the most common basketball injuries in women are. In a study by my colleagues in our Women’s Sports Medicine Center (American J Sports Med, 2013), injury information collected from WNBA players participating in the combine (2000-2008) showed that the ankle was the most common body part injured, and that anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction was the most common surgery. A separate study (Open Access J Sports Med, 2014) compared sex-specific differences in injury patterns among basketball players for a 20 year (1991-2011) period, and found that the knee was the most commonly injured body part in females. More specifically, the ACL was the most common injury and was twice as likely to occur in females as males. So let’s focus on these two:
- Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears of the knee are usually non-contact injuries, meaning that they occur when landing from a jump, decelerating, or changing direction, and not from direct contact to the knee by another player.
- Ankle sprains occur most often when a player lands on another player’s foot knocking the player off balance, causing the ankle to roll over and injuring the ligaments-usually on the outside of your ankle.
There are many factors that contribute to injury, including the way we’re built, the way we move, or a combination of the two.
It has been shown that females move differently and are built differently than males. Females tend to land and/or take-off with their knees caving in, and play sports with less of a bend in their knees and hips than males do. These patterns can contribute to ACL injury by putting stress on the ACL. Females also tend to move from their knees first or only from their knees with their weight forward, contributing to ankle sprains (ankle sprains most commonly occur when the weight is through the front of your foot, placing the ankle in a vulnerable position) and knee injuries.
How can I minimize my risk of injury?
Simply stated . . . be prepared! 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.
At the HSS Tisch Sports Performance Center, we regularly perform Quality of Movement Assessments (QMAs) for Injury Prevention and Return to Play. Our experience has shown us that faulty movement patterns can occur because we don’t know how to move, are not strong enough to perform these sport-specific movements, or do not have the range of motion or flexibility to perform the movements required.
It starts with building a foundation of movement patterns/strategies with strength training, balance, cardiovascular fitness, and flexibility to meet the demands of basketball. Train the muscles from the core to the floor in the way they are injured with your feet on the ground. With this foundation, you will be able to improve your performance. Finally, basketball skills are practiced and an alert mind and body connection is developed. When your weight is not evenly distributed, you are out of balance. Learning to balance on one leg with increasing challenges will help protect your ankle from rolling over.
Does your body and mind have the ability to react quickly? Are you able to perform these movements over and over and over again? Are there enough rest periods between seasons so your mind and body stay fresh? Playing year-round can contribute to injury, as it doesn’t allow your body to rest or prepare for the demands of basketball.
Prevention programs have been shown to decrease the risk of injury in basketball players by improving jumping-landing techniques, improving alignment, increasing hip and knee flexion, and improving strength and flexibility. The prevention programs work so long as you continue to do them.
If you do suffer an injury, it is important to rehabilitate completely before returning to play. A body part with continued deficits can contribute to faulty movements, thereby causing injury in another body part or the same part over and over again.
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.