March Madness is underway, and whatever your playing level, no one wants to get sidelined by an injury. Ankle sprains and injuries to the knee, particularly the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), are common in basketball players. Is there anything you can do to prevent yourself from missing valuable playing time? Absolutely!
Basketball is a sport of acceleration and deceleration: jumping and landing from jumps, and changing directions from side to side and forward and backward. Exercises such as squats and forward step downs off of an 8″ platform will begin to prepare your muscles. Squats mimic the athletic ready position used in basketball: defensive stance, and triple threat position on offense. Then you can progress to jumping activities, first vertical jumps and then horizontal jumps (broad jump, side to side jumps).
Successful injury prevention programs may differ in specific exercises and drills but they share a common focus: improving flexibility, strength (particularly of the core, hips, and legs), balance, agility, and your ability to jump and land safely. Theresa Chiaia, Physical Therapist, and Polly de Mille, Exercise Physiologist, offer the following guidelines for staying in the game:
1. Always warm up before playing. Get blood circulating to your muscles and joints before you start your game or practice.
2. Stretch. Being flexible enough to move freely can help you maintain ideal form. Include stretches for your thighs, calves, and hips.
3. Balance. Many injuries occur when an athlete is off-balance. Like anything, balance gets better with practice. Your gains in stability will pay off on the court.
4. Agility (the ability to change direction quickly). Learn how to move with good alignment so you protect your knees. Develop body awareness, strength, and balance to support your knees and ankles. Say to yourself: “Chest high and over knees, bend from the hips and knees, knees over toes, toes straight forward, land like a feather.”
5. Jumping and landing safely: Always jump, land, stop, and move with your knees directly over your feet. Remember: HIPS over KNEES over ANKLES! Practice proper landing technique until it becomes second nature. Keep your knees bent, your chest high, your buttocks back, and land softly. Don’t let your knee(s) turn in.
6. Emphasize quality. When practicing any of these strategies, the quality of movement, rather than quantity, should be your goal.
7. REST! Don’t let a packed schedule of practices, games, and schoolwork leave you so tired that your technique gets sloppy. Be sure to get enough sleep.
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.