By Sean Leninger, PT, DPT for Athletico
Basketball is a popular sport among youth athletes, but the duration of the season in combination with the athleticism required by players can lead to injury.
Some of the most common injuries experienced by youth basketball players include muscle strains, ankle sprains, Jumper’s knee and shin splints. Fortunately there are ways to prevent these injuries from happening. Read below to learn more about seven types of injuries that young basketball players are at risk for, as well as some injury prevention tips to help keep young athletes on the court.
- Muscle Contusions
One of the most common acute injuries suffered by young basketball players is a muscle contusion, which occurs secondary to impact. In basketball, it is not unusual for a player to accidentally ‘knee’ another player in the thigh causing a bruise to develop. Although painful, this type of injury is typically not serious.
With acute muscle contusions (less than 72 hours after injury), typical treatment includes rest, ice and compression. Once beyond the acute phase of injury, gradual return to activity is recommended and may include light stretching, progressive strengthening, and eventual return to sport once pain has subsided and full function is regained.
- Muscle Strains
In addition to muscle contusions, many young basketball players experience muscle strains, or ‘pulled’ muscles. The hamstring, calf and adductors (inner thigh) are common sites for muscle strains to occur given the functional demands of a sport like basketball. Strains can vary in severity from mild (Grade I) to serious (Grade III). Grade I strains occur when the muscle/tendon is overstretched. Small micro-tears in the muscle may or may not occur and the integrity of the muscle remains intact. Grade II strains involve a greater amount of torn muscle fibers and require longer recovery than a Grade I strain. Lastly, Grade III strains occur when the muscle tears or ruptures completely. This type of strain may require surgical intervention for full function to be restored.
Depending on the severity of the muscle strain (Grades I and II), return to sport may take anywhere from 2-6 weeks in most cases. As mentioned previously with muscle contusions, treatment for a muscle strain may include modalities (e.g. ice or heat), stretching, gradual strengthening, eventually progressing to advanced therapeutic exercises, along with sport specific activities such as drills, running, cutting, jumping, etc.
- Ankle Sprains
Most people have experienced the classic ‘low’/lateral ankle sprain that is the result of rolling/inverting the ankle. In basketball, ankle sprains can occur when cutting, accidentally stepping on an opponent’s foot or landing awkwardly. Lateral ankle sprains involve over-stretching of the ATFL (Anterior Talofibular Ligament) and/or CFL (Calcaneofibular Ligament). Much like muscle strains, 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 RICES (rice, ice, compression, elevation, 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. Improper progression or returning to play too quickly may place the athlete at an increased risk of re-injury.
Many parents worry about concussions in their young athletes. While most associate concussions with aggressive contact sports like football, hockey, lacrosse and rugby, this type of injury can also occur in basketball players. Such mechanisms of injury may include a player going up for a rebound and getting elbowed in the head, diving for a loose ball and hitting their head against the court, or during the process of defending or executing a layup if contact is involved. Concussions can be a complicated injury and may require rest, follow up with a physician, as well as a proper plan of care under the guidance of a Physical Therapist that specializes in vestibular rehabilitation for safe return to activity.
- ACL Injuries
The Anterior Cruciate Ligament or ACL is one of the four main ligaments providing stability to the knee. ACL injuries typically occur in sports that involve quick changes of direction, pivoting, cutting and jumping. Although ACL sprains can be managed conservatively with physical therapy, an ACL tear/rupture requires surgical intervention to reconstruct the torn ligament. It is also important to note that there are multiple predisposing factors (e.g., gender, bony structure, landing mechanics, playing surface) for ACL injuries. Athletes can take steps to reduce the risk of ACL injuries by engaging in a comprehensive strength and conditioning program.
- Overuse Injuries
Overuse injuries such as Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS), Jumper’s knee/patellar tendinitis, shin splints and stress fractures tend to develop over the course of a season. Many athletes are hesitant to bring up injuries to their coaches because they don’t want to miss playing time. That being said, overuse injuries tend to get worse as the season progresses. This is because overuse injuries can be linked to repetitive jumping, hip/ankle weakness, muscle imbalances (e.g. quad dominance), and running/playing/practicing while not allowing for a proper rest and recovery period. Because of this, coaches and parents should encourage young athletes to speak up when they are feeling unusual pain and discomfort.
- Apophyseal Injuries
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, repeated trauma (e.g. repetitive jumping and running) and muscle imbalances. Conservative treatment is usually effective in managing such conditions, making physical therapy an excellent treatment option.
The Importance of Injury Prevention
Injury prevention is important because it lessens potential healthcare costs and keeps athletes playing their respective sports at a high level. As such, many chronic and even some acute injuries may be mitigated or prevented through a proper “pre-hab” exercise program along with incorporating a sport-specific warm up routine. For example, youth basketball players may benefit from balance training, dynamic and static stretching, hip/ankle stability exercises, as well as strengthening of the core and lower extremities.
Should an injury linger, further follow up with a physician and formal physical therapy treatment may be the best route for optimal outcomes.
Athletico also provides complimentary injury screens at a location near you. Click here to get started.