Most Common Basketball Injuries And How To Treat Them
Basketball is the most popular youth team sport in the U.S. Thankfully, injury rates are relatively low compared to other sports such as football, lacrosse, and wrestling. Basketball injuries have a slightly higher incidence in females than males.
What Are Some Of The Most Common Basketball Injuries?
The most common basketball injuries occur in the lower extremities at the ankle and knee. These injuries are generally due to overuse, poor conditioning, improper technique (jumping, landing), equipment or footwear, or accidents on the court.
Growth or developmental factors are also causes of common basketball injuries. Young athletes are still growing; their growth plates can be affected, or muscle asymmetries can contribute to basketball injuries. Additionally, adult or peer pressure or influences may cause them to play above their level or try moves they should avoid.
We break down the most common basketball injuries here:
Ankle sprains—the single most common basketball injuries—vary in severity, but most are minor. However, if the ankle sprain doesn’t improve within three to five days, pain and swelling are severe, your child has trouble walking, or you see a deformity in the ankle, it is likely something else. See a pediatric orthopedic surgeon for an exam, diagnosis, and an appropriate treatment plan.
Ankle sprains tend to be recurrent injuries and can result in reduced balance, strength, or chronic ankle joint instability. Other extenuating conditions are injury to the talus bone (the lower part of the ankle joint) or peroneal tendons (which run behind the outer ankle bone), and early osteoarthritis.
Jammed fingers are due to a ligament sprain or stretched ligament. They are usually minor but can be more involved, with an avulsion fracture or dislocation. As with ankle sprains, seek orthopedic care in the event of significant swelling, obvious finger deformity, or if your child has difficulty bending or straightening the joint.
Knee injuries in basketball generally affect ligaments or can be knee fractures or damage to the knee cartilage or growth plate. Your child may hear or feel a pop or snap at the knee, and/or experience pain and swelling there. Common knee injuries in basketball are:
- Knee ligament/meniscus injuries – an injury to the soft structure or tissue inside the knee and happens in basketball mostly due to the multiple cutting maneuvers. Your child will experience pain in the knee joint and swelling, and may be unable to fully extend the knee joint or feel the joint lock.
- ACL tears – a tear to the anterior cruciate ligament in the center of the knee. ACL tears are the most common ligament tears; however, the lateral collateral ligament (LCL), medial collateral ligament (MCL), and posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) may also be injured during basketball play.
- Osgood-Schlatter disease – common among children and adolescents who engage in sports that include running and jumping. It usually develops in only one knee with pain and swelling below the joint. There may also be inflammation of the patellar tendon, which stretches over the kneecap. This is called jumper’s knee, or patellar tendinopathy, and is more prevalent among athletes playing high school and college sports.
A stress fracture is a small crack that develops from repetitive trauma, usually caused by overuse. Overuse injuries account for almost 50% of all sports injuries.
Among the stress fractures we see at TPOC is a tibial tubercle fracture. The tibial tubercle is a bony bump on the upper part of the shin where the patellar tendon attaches the quadriceps muscles (thigh muscles) to the leg. A break or crack at this location is often the result of the patellar tendon pulling off a fragment of the bone. This is most common in teenage boys and usually happens during a jump.
How To Treat The Most Common Basketball Injuries
Common basketball injuries generally resolve themselves, but more severe injuries may require surgery to repair the muscle or bone. To treat the most common basketball injuries, we recommend the following protocols:
RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) at home is the general treatment for ankle sprains and should start immediately after injury. This will help reduce swelling, bruising, and pain around the ankle joint. Continue this home care strategy for two or three days. Pain relievers may be needed for discomfort and if your child has difficulty walking, we may recommend crutches.
It is important when treating an ankle sprain to avoid using heat for a few days (such as heat packs or hot baths) and massage. These both increase blood flow to the area and worsen the swelling. Encourage your child to move carefully during healing to avoid re-injury.
Jammed fingers usually heal in two to three weeks and most children don’t need follow-up therapy. Treat jammed fingers with ice and elevation (above chest level) to reduce swelling..
Jammed fingers that are out of joint may need short-term splinting. The pediatric orthopedist will examine the finger to rule out a bone fracture or ligament tear. After the finger has healed, simple hand exercises will help your child regain full motion and strength. These include making a fist, squeezing a ball, or holding objects in their hand.
Certain knee injuries may require surgery to properly repair and heal. In the case of basketball injuries:
- Treatment for Osgood-Schlatter disease includes reducing the pivoting and jumping that caused it (and will make it worse). Icing the painful area will reduce pain and swelling as will taking anti-inflammatory medication; using kneepads or a patellar tendon strap will protect the knee during play. Surgery is rarely used.
- ACL tears require the ligament to be replaced or repaired surgically. Generally, ACL reconstruction (replacement) is the preferred surgical method. There are arthroscopic procedures (considered minimally invasive) that our pediatric orthopedic surgeons can perform for both replacement and repair, which are outlined in this blog article.
- Treatment for a torn meniscus (a c-shaped pad of cartilage in the knee that acts as a shock absorber) varies depending on the severity of the injury. For milder cases, we recommend ice and rest for several days, with pain relievers to reduce discomfort. Physical therapy can help strengthen the muscles around your child’s knee and in the legs to help stabilize and support the knee joint. To treat more serious meniscus tears we use knee arthroscopy (a minimally invasive surgical procedure).
Seeing a pediatric orthopedist right away is essential to diagnose and treat a stress fracture.
Treatment for stress fractures usually involves rest while the bone heals and changing your activity level to prevent another injury. It is critical to stay off the foot or knee so the bone heals properly and the fracture does not worsen.
We recommend applying an ice pack or ice massage (ice cube rub for three to five minutes) to the injured area and resting for two to eight weeks. Elevating the leg or foot will help alleviate swelling, as will nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication. We will give the green light for your child to cross-train with non-impact exercises and gradually re-introduce low-impact activities as healing progresses. Physical therapy may be prescribed to build strength and avoid re-injury. Using crutches keeps weight off the affected limb and protective footwear reduces the stress on the foot or leg.
We sometimes treat a stress fracture with a cast or boot to keep the bones in a fixed position and promote healing. More extensive fractures may require orthopedic surgery.
How To Prevent The Most Common Basketball Injuries
Basketball involves a high volume of repetitive motion and a long time on task. There is also a lot of jumping. These all lead to common basketball injuries. At TPOC, we advise the young athletes we treat to:
- Resist participating in the same sport for a full 12 months. We recommend children and teens play their sport for a maximum of eight months straight.
- Engage in diverse sports activities rather than stick to one sport.
- Wait until around age 14 (after puberty) to specialize in a single sport. This helps reduce the risk of injury. In basketball, this and other measures noted here will reduce the risk of injury to your child’s lower extremities.
- Get adequate rest and recovery time between training sessions and games.
It’s also important to have a good neuromuscular training program. To prevent basketball injuries, training should include:
- Working on landings and cutting techniques, as these are the most common origins of injuries in basketball.
- Exercises to improve dorsiflexion and attain good postural control and range of motion. Ask your child’s coach if the team is doing multi-directional shuffles, lunges, slalom drills, and jumps (with proper technique).
As with all sports, good training, proper form, and rest will also help young athletes avoid suffering recurrent injuries. Ensuring your child has enough vitamin D intake and a healthy, well-rounded diet supports bone and cartilage health (and helps avoid stress fractures).
When Is It Time To See An Orthopedist?
If you or your child recognizes something is wrong and there may be an injury, don’t delay when it comes to seeing an orthopedist.
If symptoms persist, the pain worsens, or your child experiences pain at rest or with normal activity, seek an evaluation for pediatric orthopedic treatment.
The team at The Pediatric Orthopedic Center are leading specialists in pediatric orthopedic treatment in NJ. We treat young athletes who participate in all sports, including basketball.
Call us at (973) 538-7700 or visit our website here right away if your player is experiencing pain and a basketball-related injury.< Back to Blogs