Common Basketball Injuries

Basketball Dunk
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Basketball can give you a good workout whether you are shooting hoops for fun, playing on the school basketball team, or are a professional player. But as with any activity, you can sustain an injury. Basketball injuries are generally defined as either cumulative (overuse) or acute (traumatic) injuries.

Overuse Injuries

Overuse injuries occur over time due to stress on the muscles, joints, and soft tissues without proper time for healing. They begin as a small, nagging ache or pain, and can grow into a debilitating injury if they aren't treated early.

Injuries that fall into this category include:

  • Tendonitis: This is the general term for inflammation of a tendon (also spelled tendinitis). Overuse is specifically called tendinosis, where active inflammation is no longer present but there are chronic/degenerative changes to the tendon. While inflammation from an acute injury is called tendonitis.
  • Achilles tendinitis: The Achilles tendon attaches the calf muscle to the ankle, and it gets a workout in basketball with all of the short sprints and jumping. Pain at the back of the ankle just above the heel is the chief symptom, often worse in the morning for a chronic case.
  • Rotator cuff tendonitis: These muscles are really important for stabilizing the shoulder joint, controlling rotation, and also contribute to shooting hoops.

Acute or Traumatic Injuries 

Acute or traumatic injuries occur due to a sudden force or impact, and can be quite dramatic. Even though basketball is supposed to be a non-contact sport, there are plenty of opportunities to have collisions, bumps, and falls, or to finally work a muscle, joint, or tendon so it ruptures or tears. The jumps, short sprints, and twists in basketball can cause these injuries. The more common traumatic injuries in basketball include:

  • Anterior and Posterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL/PCL) Injuries: These are the major ligaments that provide stability to your knee. Injuries happen during a sudden twisting motion or a change of direction, which is a big part of the game of basketball.
  • Injuries to the Meniscus: This is the cushioning pad inside your knee. They can be torn with a forceful rotation of the knee while the foot is firmly planted, a move often seen in basketball.
  • Wrist Sprains: Falling with your hand outstretched to take the impact can sprain or break your wrist.
  • Finger Fractures: Also seen with falls, contact, or even just a bad catch or ball pass.
  • Ankle Sprains: Sudden changes of direction while running or landing awkwardly on your foot can result in an ankle sprain.
  • Achilles Tendon Rupture: A forceful stretch of the tendon can cause it to rupture, with a pop sound and sudden inability to lift onto your toes. Recovery can require surgery and up to 12 weeks in a cast.
  • Hamstrings Pull or Tears: These muscles at the back of your thigh flex your knee during running, and a pull can happen with a sharp pain in mid-stride.
  • Muscle Sprains and Strains

Preventing Injuries

Both types of injuries may result from overuse, lack of proper rest, lack of proper warm-ups or poor conditioning. The following safety precautions are recommended to help prevent help basketball injuries:

  • Warm up thoroughly prior to play. Sprinting and jumping with cold muscles may increase the risk of injury.
  • Wear supportive basketball shoes with skid-resistant soles.
  • Use protective equipment (mouth guards, knee and elbow pads or eye protection).
  • Use good technique and play by the rules.
  • Clean off courts before play; check for slippery spots or debris.
  • Have a first aid kit on hand.
  • Get adequate recovery.
  • Stay hydrated. Have a good drink of water before your hoop session, then drink at regular intervals while you play. For long sessions, a sports drink can replenish lost body salt.
  • Add cross-training and injury-prevention programs including plyometrics, strength training, and sport-specific training to your workouts.

By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.