Basketball Scores More Sports Injuries than Other Sports

When he first introduced the game of basketball in 1891, Dr. James Naismith was just trying to find an activity to keep his students at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts entertained when it was too cold to go outside. His prototype of the game we play today used a soccer ball and two peach baskets. Chances are he would hardly recognize the fast-paced, competitive sport that has become one of the most popular in the world. He’d be even more surprised to learn that basketball is responsible for more sports injuries than any other sport.

Statistics from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the NCAA’s Injury Surveillance System, show that more than 1.6 million basketball-related injuries are treated in hospitals, doctors’ offices, clinics, ambulatory surgery centers and hospital emergency rooms each year.

Whether you are playing for the neighborhood championship or the NBA title, basketball can lead to injuries. According to orthopaedic specialist Jonathan Foret MD, with Center for Orthopaedics, it’s the highly physical nature of the game that contributes to the high rate of injuries. "With basketball, a lot of injuries occur from body contact, and this is a sport without much protective gear – there are no pads, no helmet, no shin guards and no face masks. In many ways, it’s a lot like hand-to-hand combat, with a rapidly moving ball dictating the quick, intense action that takes place within the relatively close confines of a small court. Players at all positions are at risk of injury,” adds Dr. Foret, who also serves as a Team Physician for McNeese State University.

He explains that basketball injuries can be separated into two general categories: overuse injuries and traumatic injuries. "Injuries caused by stressing an area over and over until it is damaged and begins to hurt are overuse injuries. Several of these types of injuries are commonly seen in basketball players.”

Patellar tendinitis, or "jumper's knee," is one of these. It is characterized by pain in the tendon just below the kneecap. Achilles tendinitis is another common overuse injury in basketball players. Dr. Foret says this injury of the tendon connecting the muscles in the back of the calf to the heel bone causes pain in the back of the leg just above the heel. "In some cases, the Achilles tendon can tear. To treat a torn Achilles tendon, surgery is usually required. Occasionally, we will treat with cast immobilization.”

Some basketball players overuse the tendons in their shoulders from shooting, passing and/or blocking. The rotator cuff of the shoulder is composed of four muscles. Dr. Foret says the tendons that attach these muscles to the shoulder bones can become inflamed and painful, particularly when you do repetitive overhead activities, such as shooting the basketball.

Dr. Foret explains that traumatic injuries are those caused by a sudden forceful injury. One of the more common traumatic injuries in basketball is a jammed finger. The severity of a jammed finger can range from a minor injury of the ligaments, which connect bones, to a broken finger. Splinting may be needed to allow the injured finger to heal. Another type of traumatic injury is a muscle pull or tear. In basketball players, these injuries occur primarily in the large muscles of the legs. To prevent them, stretch your thighs and calves well and do warm-up exercises before playing.

One of the most common of all basketball injuries is an ankle sprain. "This typically occurs when a player lands on another player's foot or the ankle rolls too far outward,” says Dr. Foret. "When this happens, the ligaments connecting bones and supporting the ankle are stretched or torn partially or completely.” Sprains are typically treated with a short period of immobilization. After immobilization, exercises to strengthen the muscles that hold your ankle in place are recommended.”

Knee injuries are among the most serious basketball injuries, according to Dr. Foret. One type is a sprain, a small tear in the ligaments or joint capsule that is not severe enough to cause your knee to give way, but that may weaken it. These are treated similarly to an ankle sprain, with rest and strengthening. To help the tear heal, you must protect your knee for a short time by immobilizing it. After the tear heals stretching and strengthening exercises are prescribed for the muscles that help hold the knee in place.

A twisting injury can tear the meniscus, the tissue that acts as a cushion between the bones of the upper and lower leg at the knee. "To repair or remove a torn meniscus, we have to do arthroscopic surgery,” says Dr. Foret. "During this procedure, we insert a tiny camera and instruments into the knee joint through small incisions. This allows us to visualize and repair the damage.”

A more severe basketball injury is a complete tear of one or more of the ligaments that support the knee. Dr. Foret says the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the more commonly torn ligaments in the knee. This ligament connects the upper and lower leg bones and helps hold the knee in place. "If you damage your ACL, your knee will probably hurt and give way persistently. In most cases, surgery is needed to reconstruct the ACL and restore stability. While a relatively common procedure, it is one that requires a number of months of recovery and reconditioning.”

Because of the high risk of injury when playing basketball, prevention should be a focus for every coach and player. Dr. Foret says some of the most important precautions take place before you go on the court:

· Have a pre-season physical examination and follow your doctor's recommendations for basketball injury prevention.

· Hydrate adequately - waiting until you are thirsty is too late.

· Maintain proper fitness - injury rates are higher in athletes who have not adequately prepared physically.

· After a period of inactivity, progress gradually back to full-participation basketball through conditioning activities such as aerobic conditioning, strength training, and agility training.

· Select basketball shoes that fit snugly, offer support, and are non-skid.

· Before practice or a game, always take time to warm up and stretch. Research studies have shown that cold muscles are more prone to injury.

· Avoid overuse injuries. Listen to your body and decrease training time and intensity if pain or discomfort develops. This will reduce the risk of injury and help avoid "burn-out."

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