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Game On: How to Avoid Common Basketball Injuries

Game On: How to Avoid Common Basketball Injuries

Over the years, I have suffered numerous injuries while playing basketball. With all the pivoting, jumping, and changing directions in basketball, injuries seem to be inevitable. However, injuries can be avoided if you take necessary measures to prevent them.

Countless knee braces, ankle braces, athletic tape, and other products have been developed and marketed to prevent injury. Unfortunately, these products often inhibit proprioception (the system of pressure sensors in your joints, muscles, and tendons) which provide your body with information to maintain balance. These devices may also cause you to become reliant on them for support, weakening your muscles that are designed to help maintain stability.

Here are some common injuries and exercises to improve your flexibility, strength, stability and restore your body’s proprioception to keep you on the court and off the sidelines!

Ankle Injuries

Basketball produces more ankle injuries than any other sport. Growing up playing basketball I repetitively sprained both of my ankles, causing me to limp my way around. I tried wearing high top shoes, ankle braces, and athletic tape to prevent ankle injuries. But at the end of the day these fabric and tape products won’t stop you from rolling your ankle. Once you’ve sprained your ankle for the first time your proprioception becomes inhibited and you’re more likely to sprain it again.

People who have sprained their ankle may not necessarily have weak ankles. However, there’s a good chance that their balance is impaired due to damage of their proprioceptors from their initial injury.

To restore that proprioception, it’s important to do single-limb balance exercises.

Bosu Ball or Foam Pad

For example, you can stand barefoot on one leg on an unstable surface like a foam pad or BOSU ball.

Hold for 1 minute, repeat twice.

These can be bought online or found at your local gym.

Wedge or Slope

You can also balance on a wedge or slope with your foot turned inwards to train your ankle muscles to react to a potential inversion ankle sprain. These exercises can be done with eyes opened or eyes closed for more of a challenge.

Hold for 1 minute, repeat twice.

If you don’t have a wedge, just use a steep hill or the slope of your driveway to stretch this!

Foot Injuries

Playing basketball may also result in many foot problems, including plantar fasciitis, posterior tibialis tendonitis, achilles tendinitis, and bunions. These injuries are partly caused by developing a lot of soft tissue and fascial (connective tissue) restrictions in your lower leg and foot from pushing off, jumping, and running on the court.

Lacosse Ball or Foot Rubz

Simply use a ball such as “Foot Rubz,” golf ball, or lacrosse ball to massage the bottom of your foot.

With these, you sustain pressure on the sore spots and roll through different angles to release these restrictions.

Achilles or Calf Rolling

You can also foam roller on your calf or achilles tendon.

  1. Position Foam Roll underneath calf and begin rolling from one end to another.
  2. Locate any tender or tight regions and use sustained pressure over roll.
  3. Hold for 10 seconds letting body weight sink over foam.
  4. Repeat for 1 minute, 2 times.
Standing-Calf-Stretch

You can also perform a standing calf stretch to maintain flexibility in your ankle.

  1. While standing and leaning against a wall, place one foot back behind you and bend the front knee until a gentle stretch is felt on the back of the lower leg.
  2. Your back knee should be straight the entire time.
  3. Hold for 1 minute, repeat twice.

Knee Pain

Basketball athletes can typically develop two types of anterior (front) knee pain – patellofemoral pain syndrome and “jumper’s knee” or patellar tendinitis.

  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome is pain in the front of the knee caused by wearing down of the cartilage under the kneecap.
  • Patellar tendinitis is inflammation caused by excessive stress on the patellar tendon.

Both injuries are caused by excessive quadriceps used while squatting, running, and jumping. Proper mechanics involves using your glutes.

Exercises such as the ones below can help strengthen your glutes and take the stress off your quads.

Crab-Walks

Crab Walks

  1. Place an elastic band around the thigh area.
  2. Slide feet across the ground and step with leading foot and follow with the other towards the left a couple steps, and then back to the right.
  3. Maintain neutral hip positioning and keep the knees slightly bent as well.
  4. Repeat for 1 minute, 2 times.
Side-Lying-Clams

Side Lying Clams

  1. Laying on your side, hips directly over one another and knees bent.
  2. Place a band around your knees and lift your top knee upward stretching into the resistance of the band.
  3. Make sure to keep your hips over one another and your feet together.
  4. Lower knee back down.
  5. Repeat for 1 minute, 2 times.
Single-Leg-Bridges

Single Leg Bridges

  1. Slowly lift your bottom pushing through your foot, until your knee, hip and shoulder are in a straight line.
  2. Tighten your bottom muscles as you do this.
  3. Repeat for 1 minute, 2 times.

Foam rolling your iliotibial band (a thick band of connective tissue on the outside of your thigh, also known as the “IT Band”) and quads can also prevent quad dominance and potential knee injuries.

IT-Band-Roll-Out

Foam Roll: IT Band

  1. While laying on your side, position the foam roll along the outer aspect of your thigh
  2. Cross the top leg over the bottom to help support your body
  3. Roll from the knee up to just before the hip bone
  4. Repeat for 1 minute, 2 times.
Quad-Roll-Out

Foam Roll: Quad Roll Out

  1. While laying on your back, place the foam roll along the front of your thighs
  2. Position your forearms beneath your body
  3. Use your arms to roll back and forth from the top of your knee to the top of your thigh
  4. Repeat for 1 minute, 2 times.

Hope these tips help you stay on the court without injury or pain!  Share with a friend and let me know if you have questions on how to prevent basketball injuries in the comments below!

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Jonathan To, PT, DPT

Jonathan To, PT, DPT

In his spare time, Jonathan enjoys spending time with his dog, family, and friends. He also serves as a music leader and youth counselor at his church. His favorite pastimes include playing the guitar, playing basketball and tennis, and rooting for the Clippers.
Jonathan To, PT, DPT

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