Most Common Basketball Injuries

Man swinging a golf club in good form

In the 2015 NBA Playoffs, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ forward, Kevin Love, suffered a shoulder injury that kept him out for the rest of the season. Photo source: USA Today.

 

In recent years, the pace of play and on court movement (especially off the ball) in basketball has shot up dramatically. From Coach Mike D’Antoni’s famous “run-and-gun” offensive system with the Phoenix Suns, to the Warriors’ off-ball cuts, basketball has never been as intense.

However, with pro basketball being the “most demanding” sport today, the rate and number of injuries in the sport have gone up significantly (Bleacher Report). 

 

In the 2019 NBA Playoffs and Finals, the Warriors lost 3 of their top 5 players to a major injury, while the rest of its line-up had played through many minor issues. We’re aware of how an ACL tear can set a basketball player back, but what about the more common injuries?

 

In this article, we look at how the most common basketball injuries happen, and how long it can take you to fully recover from them. 

 

11 Common Basketball Injuries

1. Muscle Contusions

A muscle contusion (also known as a bruised muscle) is generally a minor injury to your muscle fibers and connective tissues. It usually occurs from a direct and hard blow, such as falling on the court or running into another player.

Muscle contusions happen when the impact of the blow crushes the muscle fibers and connective tissues under your skin, but leave the surface of the skin intact. The damage results in bleeding under the skin, which then concentrates at the impact area to create a bruise. 

 

(When he was still a Pelican, Anthony Davis suffered from a muscle contusion in his left shoulder in February 2019. Source: USA Today)

A muscle contusion can cause some pain, swelling, and discolouration. And in some cases, it may limit your mobility. 

Basketball players will often come across thigh contusion injuries, which have 3 levels of severity: grade 1, grade 2, and grade 3. 

In most cases, you should be able to recover from a grade 1 thigh contusion in a few days, but grade 2 and grade 3 injuries could require 2-5 weeks of recovery time. 

In any case, the starting point to treating a muscle contusion should be to apply the principles of RICE (rest, ice, compress, and elevate) as soon as you’re injured.

2. Muscle Strains

Muscle strains occur when you overstretch and tear your muscle tissues. They can happen as a result of jumping, passing, or even reaching out to grab a loose ball on the floor.

The most common symptoms of muscle strains may include soreness, stiffness, and swelling. 

Muscle strains also vary in severity. You can recover from a mild strain within several weeks, but it could take months to recover from a severe one. 

No matter the type of strain, the first step to treating it should be to apply RICE. 

 


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3. Ankle Sprains

An ankle sprain occurs when the bands (ligaments) that hold your ankle bones together twist, roll, or awkwardly turn. In basketball, this could happen as a result of a sharp pivot, landing on someone’s foot (e.g., following a jump shot or layup), and many other situations. 

 

(The Warriors’ Steph Curry is known for both his 3-point shooting and infamous ankles. He’s had recurring ankle sprains throughout his career, which the Warriors leveraged early to get a bargain contract extension. Source: The Mercury News)

 

With most ankle sprains, you may experience some pain, swelling, and tenderness. As with muscle strains and contusions, injured ankles could vary in severity:

    1. Mild: You can recover from a mild ankle sprain within days, especially if your ligaments are lightly stretched or still intact. As soon as you’re injured, you should undergo RICE and compression wrapping to reduce swelling.
  • Moderate: If you have partially torn ligaments, you could have trouble walking. In addition to RICE, you may require a soft cast as well. It can take several weeks to recover from a moderate ankle sprain.
  • Severe: With a fully torn ligament, you can expect pain, swelling, and bruising. Besides RICE, you’ll undergo x-rays and will potentially have to wear a cast for 4-6 weeks. 

 

 

7. High Ankle Sprains

Though an ankle injury, high ankle sprains affect different ligaments from regular ankle sprains. These ligaments are between the tibia (shin) and fibula (calf) bones of your knee, but above the ankle joint.

They act as shock absorbers that prevent the tibia and fibula from spreading too wide as you run, pivot, or quickly change your direction. A high ankle sprain occurs when there’s a sudden twisting or turning motion in that area while you’re running.

The most common symptom is knee pain originating from the ankle. 

High ankle sprains don’t result in a lot of swelling or bruising, so it’s easy to mistake them for minor injuries.

But like many of the injuries on this list, the first step to treating a high ankle sprain is applying RICE. From there, it’ll depend on how badly you’ve torn your ligament. 

If you have a fully torn ligament, then you may need surgery. Your surgeon could insert screws in the area between your shin and calf bones, which will reduce the pressure on the ligament and let it heal. Based on the severity of the injury, it could take anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months to return to the court. 

8. Dislocated Shoulders

Your shoulder’s upper arm bone fits into the shoulder blade like a ball and socket. Shoulder dislocations occur when something, such as a strong force or extreme rotation of the upper
arm bone’s joint, pulls the upper arm bone out of the blade.

In general, the symptoms of this common basketball shoulder injury include it being visibly out of place, shoulder pain, swelling, and inability to move the shoulder joint. 

 

(At the risk of aggravating his dislocated shoulder, Enes Kanter played through it right until the Portland Trailblazers lost to the Golden State Warriors in the 2019 NBA Western Conference Finals. Source: Yahoo Sports)

The first step to treating a dislocated shoulder should be RICE, after which you may undergo treatment through manipulation/repositioning. You may have to wear a sling or splint for up to several weeks following treatment. In cases where the injury damages your blood vessels or nerves, you may need to undergo surgery. In these cases, you could be out for 4-6 months.

9. Dislocated Fingers

In terms of basketball finger injuries, dislocated fingers are quite common. These injuries occur from either a force “jamming” the tip of the finger, or something else causing the finger to overextend. 

When it comes to symptoms, you can expect pain and swelling. Some players can return to the court with Kinesio tape, but that’s a temporary fix to let them keep playing. 

 

(The Raptors’ point guard Kyle Lowry dislocated his thumb in the 2019 Eastern Semifinals, but with Kinesio tape, he played through the injury and won his and Toronto’s first Finals. Source: Yahoo Sports)

 

 

The medical treatment process would involve manipulating the finger back into place, and then using a cast to immobilize it for 4-6 weeks. 

In cases where you’ve torn ligaments or had fractures, you will need surgery. The doctor may insert ‘K-wires’ (Kirschner wire, a pin surgeons use in orthopedic procedures) into the injured finger to stabilize your bone fragments and help the ligaments heal.

10. Concussions

Concussions are a result of a direct blow to the head. Though basketball isn’t an intentional contact sport like football or hockey — concussions do happen. Think of taking the full force of someone’s elbow after a strong pump-fake, or getting hit by a knee while taking a charge. In fact, basketball concussions are occurring more often among young athletes

 

(After colliding with the Bulls’ Brandon Sampson in March 2019, the Raptors withdrew OG Anunoby from the game and put him under a concussion protocol. Source: Yahoo Sports)

There are many symptoms of a concussion, including headaches, nausea, blurred vision, and sensitivity to noise and light, among others. 

In professional sports, you would go through a “concussion protocol” and sit out for at least a few games until doctors can confirm there’s no bleeding or other internal injuries. In an amateur setting, you’ll need to take a similar approach: sit out for at least a week and have a doctor check for other injuries. 

11. Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome 

This basketball knee injury is also known as “runner’s knee”. It’s unclear what causes runner’s knee, though doctors believe it’s related to overuse, muscle imbalances, and other injuries. 

The symptoms of runner’s knee aren’t sudden, but they develop over time with minor pain or swelling in the knee when you run or jump. However, you can manage runner’s knee through the use of tape or knee braces. 

12. Patellar Tendinopathy (Jumper’s Knee)

“Jumper’s knee” is an injury to the tendon that connects your kneecap and shin bone. It occurs as a result of intensively using or stressing the tendon (such as high-powered jumps for layups and dunks). Symptoms include pain (especially when kneeling or squatting) and swelling.

 

(Once cheered in Toronto as “Air Canada” and “Half-Man, Half-Amazing”, Vince Carter was diagnosed with jumper’s knee in 2001. He sat out for 22 games that season, and again, 39 games in 2002-2003. Source: CBC).

You can manage jumper’s knee by applying ice 4-6 times a day (20-30 minutes per application), especially after the game. 

 

 


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13. Shin Splints

A shin splint is an inflammation in the muscles around your shin bone. It can occur following an intensive activity, such as running or jumping. Symptoms involve pain in those muscles ranging from sharp pain to dull soreness. Besides RICE, rest is usually enough to heal shin splints, but doctors recommend staying pain-free for at least 2 weeks before returning to the court. 

14. Stress Fractures

These injuries occur as a result of your weight-bearing bones (e.g., in the foot, ankle, etc.) not being able to sustain your weight when you run or jump. Symptoms include recurring pain and swelling around the injured area. 

 

(Before he could even step foot on the court of his first NBA game, 2016’s 1st overall pick, Ben Simmons, suffered a stress fracture in his foot. Fortunately, he came back in 2017 and won Rookie of the Year that season. Source: NBA).

For treatment, the first step is RICE. However, you might also need to take the weight off your injured foot by using crutches. In some cases, you may need surgery involving screw inserts that will hold your foot’s small bones together during the healing process. 

Next Steps 

In addition to RICE and surgery, many of these injuries may require you to undergo additional rehabilitation work with the help of an athletic trainer and sports science physician. The goal of the rehab process is to speed up recovery and prevent future injuries. 

Athletic Edge Sports Medicine uses both traditional and innovative strategies to help basketball players return to the court as soon as possible. Give us a call today to get started on your rehab and recovery process. 

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