Play it smart to stay on the court: reduce the risk for basketball injuries
by taking appropriate precautions and following recommendations

By Jason Zinn

Description: Basketball Injuries Lead Photo

The game of basketball has changed a great deal since James Naismith first conceived the idea back in the late 19th century. One of the most recognizable ways the sport has evolved over time - even in the past few decades - is the increased speed and intensity that players move with on the court. The fast pace and exciting nature of basketball has drawn many to participate and has made it one of the most popular sports in the world, but its widespread appeal comes with a cost: more overall injuries. The higher numbers of athletes playing basketball and many of the fast-paced, demanding movements necessary to the game make for a recipe of greater injury risk in a fairly high-risk sport.

To put matters in perspective, here's a snapshot of the role of injuries in basketball:
Description: Basketball Injuries

  • The National Federation of High Schools estimates that approximately one million high school athletes currently play basketball throughout the country
  • Basketball is the fourth leading cause of injury in all sports settings
  • One out of every four high school basketball players (male and female) will experience at least one injury per year
  • Injuries to the ankle and knee are most common, and the majority of these are minor, meaning players can usually return after adequate rest and recovery
  • When basketball players return too quickly after an injury without proper recovery or in extreme circumstances, more severe injuries can occur, which may have serious long-term implications
  • Sufficient rest before returning to playwith proper rehabilitation, evidence-based exercise prevention programs and wearing an appropriate brace are all critical to preventing initial injuries and injury recurrence

The most common injuries in basketball

To play basketball competitively, players must perform with extreme displays of speed, agility and tenacity. Though every position requires a different set of skills, each player on the court will be running, jumping, making quick changes in direction, and accelerating and decelerating with and without the ball. Though these rapid movements are integral to the game, they are also what put competitive players at risk for injury.

Sports injuries are generally categorized as either traumatic or overuse. Traumatic injuries occur suddenly as the result of a single incident, such as an ankle sprain or ACL tear. Overuse injuries, on the other hand, take place over time due to excessive stress of a body part without proper healing, and include jumper's knee and Achilles tendinitis. Both traumatic and overuse injuries may be seen on the basketball court and can arise in many regions of the body, but here are some of the most common basketball injuries and what we recommend to treat and prevent them:

Description: Ankle SprainAnkle sprain

The injury

  • Ankle sprains are by far the most prevalent injury in all sports: they account for up to 30% of all sports injuries
  • Basketball represents a large piece of this pie, as one study found that 41% of all ankle sprains sustained during athletic activity are due to basketball
  • Ankle sprains are the most commonly-diagnosed injury both male and female basketball players, representing about 25% of all basketball-related injuries
  • The greatest risk factor is a previous ankle sprain: players that sprain their ankle once double their risk of experiencing another sprain in the future and may also develop a condition called chronic ankle instability if not healed properly

Ankle sprains are traumatic injuries that occur any time the foot twists or rolls beyond its normal range of motion. This usually happens when a player lands on another player's foot wrong or twists their ankle when cutting. A sprain means that one of the ligaments in the ankle—which connect bones to one another—stretches too far, or in some cases, tears, from excess force. Most ankle sprains (about 80%) are lateral, or inversion sprains, meaning the foot twists inward and causes pain on the outside of the ankle. Ankle sprains can be further categorized into three degrees:

  • 1st degree (mild)
    • Ligament(s) stretched, but not torn
    • Symptoms: mild pain, tenderness and swelling, some difficulty jogging or jumping
  • 2nd degree (moderate)
    • The most common type of ankle sprain
    • Ligament(s) partially torn
    • Symptoms: significant swelling and bruising, moderate pain, trouble walking, some loss of motion or use of ankle, possible instability
  • 3rd degree (severe)
    • Ligament(s) completely torn
    • Symptoms: severe swelling and pain, especially while walking, instability of joint, extreme loss of motion, possible difficulty bearing weight on foot

Treatment and prevention
Most ankle sprains will heal with sufficient rest and rehabilitation within 4-6 weeks, and even 3rd degree sprains don't normally require surgery. Problems occur when players return to the court before recovering completely and/or when they don't take proper precautions upon returning. We recommend a course of RICE, physical therapy and bracing to treat ankle sprains and prevent future sprains from occurring:
Description: Ankle Wrapping

  • RICE- one of the easiest and most effective ways to help the ankle heal quicker by reducing inflammation
    • Rest: rest the ankle and avoid putting any pressure on it
    • Ice: immediately apply ice for 20 minutes, 3-4 times daily, for the first 1-3 days after the sprain or until swelling decreases
    • Compression: dressings, bandages or wraps should be used to immobilize and support your ankle for the first 24-36 hours after the sprain
    • Elevation: raise your injured leg above the level of your heart for at least 2-3 hours a day for the first 24-36 hours after injury to prevent swelling
  • Physical Therapy- an essential component of treatment that will help to ensure a safe and effective recovery with a lower risk of re-injury. The goals of physical therapy after an ankle sprain are to reduce pain and inflammation, and restore balance, stability and range of motion in the ankle. Each physical therapy program will differ, but they usually include some of the following:
    • Range of motion exercises: designed to restore your ankle movement
    • Muscle-strengthening exercises: strengthening the ankle will help you regain your strength and prevent future sprains from occurring
    • Basketball-specific training: this phase will be specifically catered to basketball activities and performing necessary movements
    • Prevention exercises: ankle injury prevention programs have also been found to reduce the risk for ankle sprains, and physical therapists can customize these programs for basketball teams and individual players
    • Read on for more information on how to heal an ankle sprain and returning to basketball after an ankle sprain

Bracing
Bracing is the final ingredient to ensure a safe recovery with a minimal risk for another sprain. Braces and supports protect ligaments as they heal and prevent further damage from occurring, and they are especially important for active basketball players attempting to return to play, as additional stability is needed to keep their ankles safe. BetterBraces offers a wide range of braces that will help treat and protect your ankle sprain, no matter how severe, and get you back on the court safely and quickly. Here are some ideal braces for ankle sprains in basketball players:

Description: Aircast Air Sport Ankle Brace Aircast Airsport: this brace combines compression and stabilization, is easy to apply, and ideal for 1st and 2nd degree sprains
Description: Aircast Air Stirrup Aircast Air Stirrup: considered the "standard of care" for ankle sprains, this brace provides support and compression, and is designed to allow you to continue daily activities while recovering; it's ideal for 3rd degree sprains
Description: DonJoy Stabilizing Pro DonJoy Stabilizing PRO: this lace-up brace can easily fit into any shoe and allows basketball players to move around freely while wearing it on the court; it can be used to prevent a first sprain or when returning to play after an initial ankle injury
Description: DonJoy Velocity Ankle Brace DonJoy Velocity: this is considered the best ankle brace for basketball players who have previously sprained their ankle seriously and/or those looking to prevent a future ankle injury

Read on for more information on the best ankle braces for basketball
Description: Jumpers knee
Jumper's knee

The injury

  • Patellar tendinopathy, patellar tendinitis or patellar tendinosis may all be used to describe jumper's knee, an overuse injury to the patellar tendon
  • The patellar tendon attaches the bottom of the knee bone (patella) to the top of the shinbone and absorbs forces from the quadriceps muscles in the front of the thigh
  • Jumper's knee is caused by repetitive strain to this tendon, which occurs due to all the jumping and landing involved in regular basketball play
  • Sudden changes in training habits, tight quadriceps muscles and muscle imbalances are all risk factors that increase the chances of getting jumper's knee
  • Symptoms: pain and stiffness at the front or below the patella and/or in the quadriceps, and aching usually brought on after playing basketball

Treatment and prevention
Jumper's knee can range in severity and may not prevent basketball players from playing right away, but if nothing is done to address the injury, it can become much more serious and interfere with performance. The best way to avoid this injury getting out of control is to follow the RICE protocol, see a physical therapist if the condition doesn't improve and wear a brace to keep the knee stable while playing basketball.

  • Physical therapy- a physical therapist will be able to determine if play should be restricted and for how long. If necessary, your therapist will also craft a treatment plan to facilitate recovery and prevent the injury from progressing. Components of treatment typically include:
    • Stretching exercises: stretching hip and knee muscles to increase mobility
    • Eccentric strengthening exercises: strengthening the quadriceps reduces the strain on the patellar tendon and can therefore alleviate pain
    • Basketball-specific training: usually begins once significant improvements have been made and pain has subsided
    • Other treatments: sometimes the therapist will also use other modalities such as ultrasound or iontophoresis which are meant to reduce pain

Bracing
Wearing a knee brace for jumper's knee can also help to treat the initial injury and prevent it from progressing further. Our knee braces, straps and bands apply pressure on the patellar tendon while also absorbing forces on the knee, which will reduce pain and give you the support needed to continue playing basketball competitively. Here are some of our best braces for jumper's knee:

Description: DonJoy Reaction WEB Knee Brace DonJoy Reaction WEB: this breathable, comfortable brace features a unique elastic web design and flexible hinges for stability and shock absorption
Description: DonJoy Webtech Short DonJoy Performance Webtech Short: the silicone web structure on this brace helps to evenly distribute pressure across the patellar tendon and quadriceps, which stabilizes the patella
Description: DonJoy WebTech Strap DonJoy Performance Webtech Knee Strap: the two-part, innovative system of this strap provides all day comfort for pain, and its silicone strap fits with the contours of the knee to evenly distribute pain-relieving pressure on the patellar tendon

Read on for more information on braces for jumper's knee

Achilles tendinitis

The injury

  • The Achilles tendon, which connects your calf muscle to the back of the heel, is the largest tendon in the body and is used when you walk, run and jump
  • Achilles tendinitis, or Achilles tendinopathy, is an overuse injury that occurs when this tendon becomes inflamed gradually over time
  • This is usually due to sudden changes in the amount or intensity of basketball training, especially if more running and/or jumping is added to workouts
  • Symptoms: aching in the back of the leg or above the heel that is painful after waking up, when going up or down stairs or after playing basketball; thickening of the tendon or swelling may also occur

Description: Achilles PT
Treatment and prevention
Most cases of Achilles tendinitis will improve and eventually heal with a course of conservative (non-surgical) treatment, though this may take some time depending on the seriousness of the injury. Maintaining strength and fitness levels necessary to meet the demands of basketball, as well as wearing proper footwear, will also help to ensure a proper recovery and reduce the chance of initial and future injury. As with many other non-severe basketball injuries, conservative treatment should consist of RICE, physical therapy and bracing.

  • Physical therapy- after an evaluation, your physical therapist will establish a customized treatment program to help you return to basketball in the fastest and safest manner possible. Treatment will address any lack of strength, flexibility or body control, as well as any pain or swelling, and typically consists of:
    • Range of motion exercises: exercises like the calf stretch will improve the mobility of your ankle, foot and knee
    • Eccentric strengthening exercises: the heel drop and other similar exercises will build back strength and reduce strain in the Achilles region, and they have been found to reduce pain in recovering athletes
    • Manual therapy: your therapist may also use hands-on treatments to move your muscles and joints to improve their strength and mobility
    • Basketball-specific training: once pain, strength and mobility improve, your therapist will work to teach you how to perform many dangerous movements in basketball safely to reduce injury risk
    • These ankle mobility exercises will also help to prevent initial and future injuries in this region of the body

Bracing
As improvement continues, your physical therapist may also recommend orthotics or an ankle brace to support your Achilles and prevent future injuries from occurring. Wearing a brace while playing basketball will offer additional support and stability on the court so you can play confidently without worrying about re-injuring your Achilles. Here are some of our top choices from BetterBraces to treat and prevent Achilles tendinitis:

Description: Aircast Airheel Aircast Airheel Ankle Brace: constructed with a lightweight and breathable fabric, the Airheel applies pulsating compression during every step, which helps to reduce swelling and enhance circulation
Description: DonJoy Double StrapAnkle Wrap DonJoy Double Strap Ankle Wrap: this brace is low-profile and non-bulky, and offers support for the ankle and arch of the foot while playing basketball

 

Click here for additional bracing solutions for Achilles tendinitis

Description: ACL Tear CrutchesACL tear

The injury

  • The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) runs diagonally across the middle of the knee and helps to keep it stable during movement
  • In basketball, the ACL can be injured as a result of rapidly changing direction, landing from a jump improperly or directly colliding with another player
  • Partial tears of the ACL are rare, and most ACL injuries are either complete or near-complete tears
  • About half of all ACL injuries occur with damage to other structures in the knee
  • Up to 16% of female basketball players will experience an ACL injury at some point in their career, and women are 4-6 times more likely to suffer these injuries than men
  • After experiencing an ACL tear, an athlete has a 15 times greater risk of sustaining a second ACL injury during the first 12 months after surgery
  • Symptoms: severe pain and swelling, loss of range of motion, tenderness in the knee, discomfort while walking; some athletes hear a "pop" from the ACL tear

Treatment and prevention
As with any injury, it's best to be evaluated by your doctor before making any treatment decisions. Though there are some situations in which surgery may not be needed, the majority of ACL tears require surgical treatment, especially for all young, active basketball players and/or if other parts of the knee are injured. Patients treated with surgical reconstruction of the ACL have long-term success rates as high as 95%, and though recovery may take as long as 10 months, many athletes will be able to return to play basketball at pre-injury levels. Physical therapy is recommended both before and after ACL surgery, to prepare patients for the procedure and to help them on their path back to basketball. Rehabilitation from surgery for ACL tears typically consists of:

  • RICE
  • Weight-bearing education: all patients will be given crutches immediately after surgery, and your therapist will help guide you in their usage and how much weight should be placed on the recovering leg
  • Range of motion exercises: gentle exercises - some that involve weight-bearing, others that do not—to increase range of motion should be performed at home immediately after surgery
  • Strengthening exercises: as more weight is placed on the injured leg, each patient will regain their strength and can eventually start strengthening exercises; as strength increases and the patient eventually starts to walk without crutches, the therapist will increase their intensity, and add balance and coordination exercises
  • Return to play: each patient will improve at a different pace, and as function returns, higher-level basketball-based exercises and activities will begin; your physical therapist will determine when you are ready to return to playing basketball, but they usually make sure you don't have any pain, swelling or instability while playing, and that most of your strength has returned

Bracing
After the procedure, most surgeons will give patients a brace to limit knee movement during the rehabilitation process. The surgeon will determine how long this brace should be worn for, and may communicate with your physical therapist to establish a time frame for using the brace. Your physical therapist may also recommend a brace to be worn as you begin basketball training and eventually return to play, which will offer added stability and reduce the amount of time the ACL is in an "at-risk" position for tearing. BetterBraces offers a wide variety of knee braces for ACL injuries and tears. Here are some of our recommendations:

Description: Donjoy Defiance III DonJoy Defiance III Custom Brace: the most popular custom knee brace in the world, the Defiance III is designed for athletes recovering from knee surgeries like ACL reconstruction and is worn by many professional athletes
Description: DonJoy Armor Knee Brace DonJoy Armor Knee Brace with Standard Hinge: this brace is ideal for extremely active individuals who may be recovering from an ACL reconstruction, and is helpful for preventing future ACL injuries
Description: DonJoy Playmaker II Fourcepoint DonJoy Playmaker II FourcePoint: using hinge technology, this brace increases the knee's flexibility while also providing stability to reduce risk for injury, and it's ideal for those returning to basketball following ACL injury

Read on for more information on knee braces for ACL tears and other injuries

Description: Basketball Injuries

General injury prevention

Though many fundamental elements of basketball make it a sport with a fairly high risk for injury, players, parents and coaches must also recognize that a significant amount of injuries can be prevented if proper precautions are taken. Unfortunately, it seems that many coaches are failing to take these necessary steps to reduce injury risk:

  • Wearing protective ankle braces has been found to reduce the risk for ankle injury by as much as 50-85%
  • Ankle injury prevention programs have also been found to reduce the risk for ankle injury by as much as 60-85%
  • Other studies have shown that ACL injuries can be prevented in high school basketball by following integrated warm-up programs, which adds prevention-specific exercises to strength workouts
  • Yet one study found that only 33% of coaches encouraged or required their players use braces, and very few also implemented injury prevention programs

Injury prevention programs primarily focus on general fitness, strength, flexibility proprioception (one's ability to sense its body's position and motion in space) and various elements of balance. Physical therapists can create or implement these types of programs, and though it's best to perform them before the start of a basketball season, they can be modified and applied during the season, too. Some of the most effective programs that have been supported by research include the Sportsmetrics ACL Injury Prevention Program, the Knee Injury Prevention Program and the Prevent Injury and Enhance Performance Program. In addition to injury prevention programs, we also recommend the following to reduce injury risk in basketball:

  • Warm up and stretch all parts of the body thoroughly before practices and games
  • Perform agility drills and other activities to improve balance and body awareness during practice
  • Wear supportive basketball shoes with skid-resistant soles
  • High school and other younger basketball athletes should take sufficient time off from playing during the year to reduce the risk for overuse injuries
  • Wear a brace for added protection, especially if you've suffered an injury such as an ankle sprain or ACL tear in the past; you can read more about all of our recommended braces for basketball players here

Though it's impossible to completely eradicate all injury risk in basketball, that doesn't mean you're powerless to stop them. Speak to your coach about starting an injury prevention program on your basketball team or see your local physical therapist for any basketball-related injuries and to discuss the importance of prevention on the court.

At BetterBraces, we recommend first seeing your primary care doctor, a physical therapist or another medical professional for a complete diagnosis and evaluation of your injury before making any bracing decisions. Only a medical professional can determine the severity of your injury and instruct you on the appropriate course of treatment—including the possible use of a brace—for effective rehabilitation. This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you're interested in purchasing a brace from BetterBraces and would like some guidance with the process, call us at (800) 553-5019 or e-mail us at service@betterbraces.com for assistance from one of our brace experts.

BetterBraces, a DJO Global brand, is the top brand in sports bracing for prevention and therapy. Our products are designed by doctors and athletes to help you get back on your feet and stay active. BetterBraces is the innovative and technological leader in orthopedics. Our ultimate goal is to help you get back on your feet and stay active.

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