Preventing basketball injuries
Combining explosive running and jumping with the subtle skills of dribbling, passing, and shooting, basketball is great exercise and lots of fun to play.
It’s no surprise that basketball is one of the world’s fastest-growing sports, drawing in boys and girls from all over the world. But the rise in popularity has led to more players getting hurt. More than half of basketball injuries affect the lower extremities. The most common diagnoses are ligament and muscle strains, bruises, and fractures. Fortunately, severe injuries are rare in basketball.
There are many ways to prevent or reduce the severity of basketball injuries. By using proper playing technique, wearing the right equipment, and obeying the game’s rules, basketball can be a safe and fun game to play.
Where and how basketball injuries happen
- Under the basket is where the majority of basketball injuries occur. The tough physical play that takes place when multiple players fight to establish position and grab rebounds can lead to a range of head, hand, back, and lower-body injuries.
- Poor court conditions can lead to slips, falls, and twisted ankles. On indoor courts, efforts should be made to clean up wet spots. If playing outdoors, players should exercise caution when the weather turns bad.
- Fouls are called when players make physical contact with other players. Most fouls involve minor contact, but hard fouls — forearms to the head, shoves in the back, and other rough play — can result in serious injury.
- Overuse injuries such as stress fractures and tendinitis may result from playing too much without rest. Younger players are particularly susceptible to Osgood-Schlatter disease, which causes swelling just below the kneecap, and Sever’s disease, marked by pain in the heel.
Common basketball injuries
- Knees: The main ligaments in the knee, particularly the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), are susceptible to sprains. Players who tear an ACL experience swelling in the knee joint and become unsteady when trying to walk or run. If this happens, you should seek medical attention.
- Ankles: Running and pivoting in basketball often lead to ankle sprains, which can be treated with rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Achilles tendinitis, which is an inflammation of the tendons at the back of the leg near the heel, can be treated with rest and ice. Tears to the Achilles tendon may require surgery. To guard against ankle problems, you may want to consider using tape or braces.
- Feet: Rolling your foot or having your foot stepped on by another player may cause stress fractures and acute fractures. Players in pain should seek medical treatment.
- Shins: The constant pounding absorbed by the legs while running up and down the floor can result in painful inflammation of the tissues surrounding the lower leg bone (tibia) — known as shin splints. Players with shin splints should rest until strength and flexibility have returned before resuming play. If pain persists, it may indicate a stress fracture.
- Shoulders: Shoulder injuries in basketball are usually the result of overuse: too much shooting, passing, and rebounding. Rest is the best remedy. More serious injuries, like dislocated shoulders, are common and require medical attention.
- Wrists: Falling on an outstretched hand could lead to a wrist injury. Sprains of the wrist ligament can usually be treated with icing, elevation, and the use of a wrist brace. If pain persists, it could indicate a wrist fracture, requiring medical attention.
- Fingers: It is common for basketball players to jam their fingers. In most cases, finger pain and swelling can be treated with ice or taping. Recovery times for a dislocated finger can run from three to six weeks. Broken fingers are also common in basketball and require medical attention.
- Spine: The jumping and twisting required of basketball players can lead to spine injuries, including stress fractures that require medical attention. Simple muscle strains in the neck and lower back can be treated with rest, ice, and stretching.
- Head and face: Flying elbows, forearms, fingers, and hands — not to mention getting hit by the ball — can cause injuries to the teeth and eyes, as well as head and face lacerations. Goggles and mouth guards offer protection. Players with serious facial injuries often wear face masks while recovering from an injury.
- Concussions: Hitting your head on the floor or receiving a blow from the arm of an opponent can cause a concussion. Headaches, nausea, dizziness, and lack of balance are common symptoms. Concussions vary in severity, but all players who have been hit in the head should be monitored closely. Because improper treatment or getting a second concussion before fully recovering from the first can have a long-term impact on mental functioning, players should be removed from games or practice and seek medical attention until all symptoms have gone away.
How to reduce the risk of basketball injuries
Dress for success
- Wear non-skid basketball shoes that fit well and provide arch and ankle support.
- Pads for knees and elbows can guard against bruises and cuts.
- Mouth guards can protect your teeth and mouth.
- Players who wear eyeglasses should use safety glasses or glasses guards.
- Boys should wear a protective cup.
- Many girls wear sports bras for support and comfort.
- Don’t wear jewelry, rings, or piercings in practices or games.
Play it right
- Young players should understand the rules of the game, their positions on the court, and their team’s plays and schemes. This will reduce the chance of collisions.
- Practice proper passing and shooting techniques.
- Holding, blocking, charging, and tripping lead to injuries. Dirty play also leads to technical fouls and time on the bench.
Order on the court
- On outdoor courts, clear all rocks and debris. Watch for holes and uneven surfaces. If playing at night, make sure the court is well lit.
- On indoor courts, make sure they’re clean, free of debris and slick spots, and have good traction. Boundary lines should not be too close to walls, bleachers, tables, or seating areas. Put padding on basket goal posts and the walls behind them.
How we care for basketball injuries at Boston Children’s Hospital
As the largest and most experienced pediatric and young adult sports medicine practice in the country, the Sports Medicine Division at Boston Children's combines personalized care with innovative treatment for each athlete we treat.
Our Sports Medicine team consists of sports medicine physicians, orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists, podiatrists, athletic trainers, sports psychologists, dietitians, and many others who collaborate in every aspect of our patients’ care and their recovery.
The Micheli Center for Sports Injury Prevention, part of the Sports Medicine Division, is dedicated to the prevention of sports injuries. Through research and clinical training, we offer practical strategies that help young athletes reduce their risk of injury while enhancing their sports performance. Our rehabilitation and strength training programs help injured athletes return to play stronger and healthier.
Whether injury prevention or recovery is your goal, we have the skills and dedication to help your child remain active in the sports they love.