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Preventing volleyball injuries

Volleyball helps young athletes develop skills such as agility, hand-eye coordination, communication, and teamwork. Physically, the sport fosters strength — especially in the legs, abdominals, arms, and shoulders — plus great reflexes and balance.

Compared to a lot of sports, volleyball injury rates are relatively low. For every 1,000 women’s college volleyball games or practices, for instance, there are only about four injuries. This might be one of the reasons many young volleyball players continue playing well into adulthood.

How do volleyball injuries happen?

Although the rate of injury is low, volleyball players can get injured. Spiking, blocking, and other repetitive overhead motions may lead to sprains and strains. Jammed fingers, sore backs, and twisted ankles are other common volleyball injuries. Fortunately, these problems rarely force athletes to miss a game or practice time.

It’s important not to overdo it, however. Too much training without rest can lead to overuse injuries. Over time, minor injuries can become serious and chronic. Kids who play volleyball year-round, especially those who start doing so at an early age, are at higher risk of more serious injury.

Common volleyball injuries

  • Rotator cuff tendinitis: Serving and spiking repeatedly may lead to irritation or fatigue in the muscles and tendons that connect the upper arm bone to the shoulder joint. (This group of muscles and tissues is called the rotator cuff.)
  • Finger injuries: Blocking, setting, and digging can lead to finger fractures, dislocations, and tendon/ligament injuries.
  • Ankle injuries: Ankle sprains may occur when a player jumps and lands awkwardly, “rolling the ankle.” This can cause injury to the bones and ligaments or tendons that stabilize the ankle joint.
  • Knee injuries: The impact of repetitive jumping can put pressure on players’ knees and may result in inflammation of the tendon that connect the kneecap to the shin bone (tibia). This condition is called patellar tendonitis and is also known as jumper’s knee.

    Landing awkwardly, with the knee falling inwards (valgus collapse) after jumping can lead to anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury. The ACL is a large stabilizing ligament in the knee. Swelling in the knee may indicate a problem with the ACL. This valgus collapse is typically due to muscle imbalance and weakness in the lower extremity, particularly the buttock (gluteal) muscles.

How can you prevent volleyball injuries?

Before and after play

  • Get fit before the season begins. Pre-season conditioning, particularly exercise to strengthen the upper back, shoulders, lower back, gluteal muscles, and legs, is critical to injury prevention.
  • Warm up before games and practices with dynamic warm up and mobilization exercises.
  • Cool down after play. Don’t come to a complete stop when the game or practice is over. Give your muscles a chance to wind down with easy stretching.

On the court

  • Wear athletic shoes with foot and ankle support. This can absorb some of the shock of repeated jumping and landing. Knee pads offer protection when you fall or dive for the ball.
  • Communicate with your teammates. Be sure to “call” the ball to avoid collisions.
  • Don’t grab the net or hang on to supports: An overturned net may injure you or another player.
  • When playing indoors, make sure that the court has enough overhead clearance to accommodate play.
  • When playing outdoors, check the ground for glass, trash, and debris that could cause falls, slips, and cuts.
  • When playing in the sun, wear sunscreen and drink plenty of water. Hats, visors, and sunglasses may also help you stay safe in the sun.

How can you prevent overuse injuries?

With help from parents and coaches, young athletes can avoid overuse injuries and continue to enjoy their sport free of pressure and burnout. What’s more, they may develop a love of physical fitness that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

  • Get plenty of rest between games and practices. This is especially important for young players. Take a day or two off each week and at least a month or two off between seasons to help aid recovery and decrease the risk of burnout.
  • Play other sports. Just playing volleyball (or any sport) puts strain on a limited number of muscles while other muscles hardly get used at all. Mix things up with swimming, cycling, soccer — something new and different.
  • Keep it fun. Did you know that about 70 percent of young athletes give up on youth sports by age 13? When pressure from parents, coaches, and others become too much, the games stop being fun. It’s great to set goals and play hard. But remember, volleyball is a game. When fun is part of the mix, kids are more likely to enjoy the benefits of physical fitness and team togetherness for many years to come.

How we care for volleyball 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.

Our Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Program help athletes recover from ACL injuries. Our research-based injury prevention services help reduce athletes’ risk of repeat ACL tears or sprains, and we offer comprehensive psychological support, if needed, to address the social and emotional impact of an ACL injury.

The Micheli Center for Sports Injury Prevention, part of Boston Children’s Sports Medicine Division, offers ACL injury prevention classes and an ACL Return-to-Play program.