Basketball is a very popular sport among youth athletes. As with many other sports, there are common injuries associated with this sport that is predicated on athleticism, coordination, and agility.
Common injuries sustained by youth basketball players consist of ankle sprains, various muscle strains, overuse injuries and ligamentous tears. While it is impossible to guarantee the avoidance of injury in sport, there are ways to decrease the risk of injury. Below you will find descriptions of common injuries in youth basketball along with tips toward their prevention.
1. Keep Your Feet
The classic lateral ankle sprain is the result of forcefully inverting the ankle joint. Lateral ankle sprains most often occur with sudden change of direction, accidentally stepping on an opponent’s foot or awkward landings. The lateral ligaments of the ankle joint that are most often affected in a lateral ankle sprain consist of the ATFL (Anterior Talofibular Ligament), CFL (Calcaneofibular Ligament), and/or the PTFL (Posterior Talofibular Ligament). Much like muscle strains, ligamentous sprains are graded on a scale from I through III, with Grade I sprains being mild and Grade III sprains being considered severe.
Acute ankle sprains (Grades I-II) are typically treated with rest, ice, compression, elevation and ankle stabilization. Once beyond the acute phase of healing, gradual pain-free restoration of range of motion, strength, ankle stability, balance and functionality is addressed in order to facilitate safe return to play.
2. Warm It Up
Many young basketball players experience muscle strains, or “pulled” muscles. The hamstrings, calves and groin (adductors) are the common sites for muscle strains in basketball players. Muscle strains typically occur as a result of a fatigue, overuse, or from a muscle being unprepared (cold) for the activity that it is engaged in. Strains can vary in severity from mild (Grade I) to severe (Grade III). Grade I strains occur when the muscle/tendon is overstretched. Small micro-tears in the muscle may occur, but the integrity of the muscle remains intact. Grade II strains involve a greater amount of torn muscle fibers and require longer recovery than Grade I strains. Lastly, Grade III strains occur when the muscle is torn completely. This type of strain may require surgical intervention for full function to be restored in the given muscle.
Since muscle strains are most commonly present in deconditioned and/or “cold” muscles, it is imperative that athletes are engaged in an adequate dynamic warm up routine prior to dynamic activity, such as basketball.
3. Knee Deep
The Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) is one of the four main ligaments providing stability to the knee joint, but it is the most discussed ligament in sports. ACL injuries often in occur in basketball with mechanisms of injury involving quick changes of direction, pivoting, cutting and jumping. An ACL rupture requires surgical intervention to reconstruct the torn ligament. While there are certain traumatic ACL injuries that cannot be avoided, it is also important to note that there are multiple predisposing factors related to ACL injuries (i.e gender, bony structure, landing mechanics, playing surface). Athletes can take steps to reduce the risk of ACL injuries by engaging in a comprehensive strength and conditioning program and an adequate warm-up regimen prior to dynamic activity as mentioned in avoiding muscle sprains.
4. Heads Up
Many parents worry about concussions in their young athletes regardless of the sport. While most associate concussions with more aggressive contact sports like football, lacrosse, and even soccer, this type of injury can also occur in basketball. In fact, in a recent study, basketball accounted for more than 9 percent of athletic concussions among 8-to-19-year olds, placing it second among youth sports (behind only football).1 Such mechanisms of injury may include an incidental elbow to the head during play or head-to-head contact between players when diving for a loose ball. Concussions can be complicated, but they require early intervention, rest, follow up with a physician, and an appropriate treatment plan in physical therapy to ensure a safe return to activity.
5. Rest, Rehab, Recover
Overuse injuries in sports occur when there is repetitive trauma co-existing with insufficient training. We see the number of overuse injuries growing in youth basketball with sport specialization becoming more widely accepted. Too often athletes engage in repetitive movements (without rest) in effort to develop proficiency in one specific sport. This disregards their imbalanced development as the body is growing, which leads to increased risk for overuse injury.
Common overuse injuries associated with youth basketball are patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), jumper’s knee/patellar tendinitis, shin splints and stress fractures. Many young athletes are reluctant in mentioning their injuries to their coaches out of fear of losing playing time or even being labeled as “injury prone.” However, overuse injuries only worsen over the course of the season (without treatment); they don’t improve without adequate rest and appropriate intervention. Overuse injuries can be linked to repetitive jumping with decreased lower extremity kinetic chain stability, hip/ankle weakness, muscle imbalances, and engaging in a given sport without allowing for proper rest and recovery. Coaches and parents should encourage young athletes to speak up when they are feeling unusual pain and discomfort and to foster participation in a well-balance sports performance program to decrease the risk for overuse injury.
Apophyseal injuries are specific to the pediatric population. These types of injuries occur at sites where tendons attach to bony prominences and include inflammation and soreness to avulsion fractures. Common sites of apophyseal injuries in youth basketball players include the calcaneus/heel (Sever’s Disease) and the tibial tuberosity/shin (Osgood-Schlatter’s Disease). Apophyseal injuries are typically associated with skeletal immaturity, flexibility deficits, repetitive trauma (i.e repetitive jumping and running) and muscular imbalances. Conservative treatment is usually effective in managing such conditions, making physical therapy an excellent treatment option.
Injury prevention in all athletes is important, but injury prevention in our youth is critical! Not only does it protect our young athletes, keeping them on the court, but it preserves their bodies in a manner that decreases the likelihood of the long-term sequela of various injuries that steal away many of the joys of their youth. If you suspect that your young athlete is harboring an injury or even might appear to be at risk for injury/re-injury, don’t hesitate to call or schedule an appointment at an Athletico Physical Therapy clinic near you where our teams of highly skilled clinicians would love to explore your options to maximize your athlete’s outcomes and decrease the risk of injury.
By Leython Williams, PT, DPT, CMTPT for Athletico Physical Therapy