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Staying healthy on the hardwood: Treating common basketball injuries

As we move deeper into winter sports season, here's a look at some of basketball's most common injuries-with tips for treatment to ensure a quick return to play.

The winter sports season is in full swing. In gyms everywhere the squeak of basketball shoes on the court can be heard. Along with the layups and 3 pointers, there are common injuries that occur. Let's talk about some of these common basketball injuries and the appropriate treatment.

Ankle Sprains

This is the most common injury in basketball, accounting for 24.6 percent of women's game injuries and 26.2 percent for men. It occurs when the foot rolls inward spraining the ligaments on the outside of the ankle. Swelling and bruising often occur with the severity of the injury dictating the athlete's ability to return to play.

Mild ankle sprains can return fairly quickly, sometimes even in the same game with taping or a brace. More serve injuries can take weeks to months to recover. Immediate treatment involves immobilization and ice followed by range of motion, strengthening, and balance/proprioceptive exercises. For athletes that cannot bear weight on their foot, they should be put on crutches and see a physician to rule out a fracture as well as assess the extent of the injury. For prevention, taping and bracing has been shown to reduce the rate of ankle injuries in sports.

Stress Injuries

Stress injuries (shin splints, stress fracture, etc) are another common basketball injury, usually seen during preseason as athletes transition from softer outdoor fields in fall sports to the hard indoor courts. Initially, symptoms are only with activity. As the problem worsens, pain can occur with walking and even at rest. If not addressed early, it can lead to a stress fracture requiring the patient to stop sports for a prolonged period of time.

The common locations of these injuries are the tibia, medial malleolus, fifth metatarsal, and navicular. Initial treatment involves decreasing impact activities until symptoms resolve and assessing the athlete's feet for appropriate shoes and possibly supportive inserts. It's also a good idea to progress practice intensity gradually to allow players to acclimate to the new playing surface. Players that do not respond to conservative measures should be seen by a sports medicine physician for further evaluation.


Knee injuries are the second most common injury in basketball, with ACL injuries being more common in female players.  Both meniscal tears and ACL injuries are caused by deceleration and pivoting on a planted foot. The common signs of an internal knee injury include swelling and a feeling of a "pop" or "catching and locking."  Immediate treatment should include ice and crutches if the athlete cannot walk normally followed by a referral to a sports medicine doctor to diagnose the injury.

Research has shown that ACL prevention programs have been effective in reducing the incidence of injury. Some well-known programs are the PEP program (, Sportsmetrics (, and the FIFA 11+ program ( . Although some of these are sports specific, they can be easily modified for basketball.

Patellar Tendinopathy

Commonly known as patellar tendonitis or jumper's knee, this injury presents as pain and tenderness of the patellar tendon. The mechanism of injury is believed to be due to repetitive strain to the tendon from jumping, cutting, and deceleration activities involved in basketball. Treatment includes limiting activity until symptoms improve, as well as ice, quad stretching, eccentric quadriceps exercises, and soft tissue treatments. Patellar tendon straps can also be beneficial. In more chronic cases, medications, injection therapies, and surgery are other options.

In younger patients whose growth plates are not closed, usually under 15, Osgood-Schlatter syndrome is more common. This is an injury to the attachment of the patellar tendon to the tibia. The tendon actually pulls away from the bone causing a boney protuberance that can become painful and tender. The treatment for Osgood-Schlatter syndrome is rest and ice as it is almost always self-limiting.

Hand Injuries

Finger injuries are fairly common in basketball and occur when players "jam" their fingers on the ball. The injuries are usually simple sprains that can be treated symptomatically with ice and buddy taping. Occasionally these injuries can be more serious such a fracture and tendon rupture. If the player's finger looks deformed or if they are unable to move it, they should be evaluated by a sports medicine physician to accurately diagnose the injury.

Upper Extremity

Shoulder injuries are relatively rare in basketball with the most common being dislocations and labral tears. These injuries usually occur when a player is blocked during a shot forcing the arm backwards. For a dislocation, urgent treatment should be sought from the team's athletic trainer and a physician if necessary. Labral tears should be considered for players with chronic shoulder pain with overhead activities such as shooting, and an appointment with a sports medicine physician should be schedule to accurately diagnose the injury.

The other upper extremity injury seen in basketball is a fracture. These usually occur from falling on an outstretched arm. As with dislocations, the player should be evaluated by the team's athletic trainer and referred to a physician for urgent care.

As you can see, lower extremity injuries account for the majority of basketball injuries. Many of these are minor and can be managed conservatively with a quick return to sports. With more serious injuries such as ligament/tendon ruptures and fractures, urgent care by a sports medicine physician is advised. The above treatment recommendations are just a guideline and any injury should be evaluated by your team's athletic trainer or a sports medicine physician to accurately diagnose the injury and provide appropriate care.

Statistics on common basketball injuries

Read more Sports Doc for Sports Medicine and Fitness.