Gordon Hayward basketball injury carried off court on stretcher

Preventing Common Basketball Injuries

The most newsworthy basketball injury in recent memory was surely the sprained knee suffered by Duke’s Zion Williamson after the blowout of his Nike sneakers. The company clearly wishes they could’ve prevented this unfortunate incident which wiped more than a billion dollars off their balance sheet in a single day. In this article we’ll go over some of the most common basketball injuries and how to prevent them from happening to you.

Gordon Hayward basketball injury carried off court on stretcher

Photo By: Erik Drost

  • Strength-training involving squats and core exercises is key to being ready for your next game
  • Never overdo it. Sometimes more is less and when it comes to over-exercising, injuries are the unfortunate side effect and can result in damaged bones and muscles [1]. I had someone tell me just last week that they workout 7 days a week. This may be way too much. Talk to your doctor about what a realistic workout regime may look like to you.
  • Remember to keep out of the sun on overly toasty days. Wear a hat and sunscreen if your going to be playing in straight sun.
  • Jumping drills strengthen your legs and increase your vertical at the same time
  • Plyometrics will help increase power and speed and improve your endurance
  • While your at the doctors, get a checkup. Make sure everything is in tip top shape before going into a new season.
  • So many on-court injuries or illnesses could be avoided if players knew enough to stay hydrated. Water or other sports designed fluids are the life lines that can keep you playing at peak performance.

Basketball Injuries Happen to Us All

We’ve all had our share of basketball injuries. In my particular case, I was on the verge of knocking out my brother, once and for all, in a driveway basketball game. And then, suddenly, I rolled my ankle. Alas, it took me some time to get back on the court, and feeling at full strength. Once back though, I decided to challenge the local high school kids to some hoops. Wouldn’t you know: The first hard pass from my new teammate sprained my ring finger. Lucky for me, I wasn’t alone. Innumerable weekend warriors suffer these same common, and preventable, basketball injuries.

Rules of Basketball that Prevent Injury

Woman stretching warming up

But you may ask: Why was I playing basketball against my brother on an icy driveway in the first place, rather than sitting inside sipping a hot chocolate on that blustery afternoon? I remember it well, though it was many years ago, right in the middle of March Madness. Our beloved UConn Huskies had barely survived another elimination game, but inspired us to take the court. Naturally, we ignored two “rules” that would’ve saved me from such frequent injuries:

  1. Always warm up well before playing, and
  2. Wear high-top sneakers to support your ankles (rather than the low-tops I quickly flipped on to challenge my brother in the driveway).

Let’s also assume that the Air Jordans you bought from the aforementioned company will secure your ankles a bit more than Zion´s (999,999 times out of a million).

Top 5 Common Basketball Injuries

Let’s start by looking at a list of the most common basketball injuries, and then get to the specific steps you can take to prevent them, and in the meantime, keep yourself on the court to challenge the little brothers and local high schoolers of the world.

Ankle and Foot Injuries

Girl wrapping basketball foot injury

By far, Injuries to the feet and ankles are the most prevalent. According to some estimates, 42% of basketball injuries occur to the foot and ankle or lower extremities. You can easily roll your ankle, get bashed in a mad scramble for the ball, or even get stepped on (not a pretty sight if you should happen to tumble in the land of the bigs going for a rebound). Basketball is a fast and “foot-loose” sport that naturally leaves athletes vulnerable to these kinds of injuries.

How to Prevent Them: In order to prevent foot and ankle injuries, you need to think about proper support. Before stepping on the court (and possibly getting stepped on), invest as much as you can in the right footwear for the best wooden courts, the sticky rubber ones found at many schools, or the most challenging of all, the hard cement courts that spawn the greatest city players—and that are often covered with water, or even ice, if you´re lucky enough to live in the North.

Indoor basketball shoes help prevent slipping on indoor playing surfaces, and in general, a good pair of basketball shoes will provide a higher profile and more support around the ankle. If you need help choosing which shoe is right for you, check out these great shoes designed for ankle support. It also doesn’t hurt to tape up your ankle with athletic tape before a game with the permission of your doctor if you want to take extra preventative measures or are prone to ankle injuries.

Doing yoga balance poses on a regular basis can also help prevent injuries. Improved balance can help improve stability and decrease the potential for trips and falls.

Knee Area Injuries

Paul Pierce on floor basketball injury

ACL tears and other extreme knee related injuries are less common in the game as they can be in other sports, but don’t let that put you off guard. Knee injuries are still a huge player in the number of basketball related injuries sustained by players throughout the world.

How to Prevent Them: Strength training is your best friend in this case. Build up the needed support in your knees by working out your legs and other supporting body structures in that area. External supports such as knee braces and physician-applied medical tape can support the knee area as well. Don’t feel bad about using a support device during the heeling process. It’s a far better choice than risking another fall and damaging your knee further. [2]

Players who are outside their ideal weight may put added streign on their joints and muscles, especially their knee joints. Do your best to maintain an ideal weight by eating healthy, staying well hydrated and getting regular exercise, which if your playing a lot of basketball you are probably already getting!

Wear stable and properly supportive shoes that can help cushion landings and prevent slips and falls while playing basketball (here are some great shoes for basketball guards) . Wearing high heels on a regular basis can dramatically increase the potential for knee injury while off the court. Now that I think about it, it could also cause injury if you wear them on the court to play too!

It’s a recurring theme throughout preventative measures but keeping your muscles strong and your body limber are really some of the best things you can do to decrease injuries. Stretching and working out the legs and core muscle groups can help to support the knee area and give it added flexibility.

Wrist and Hand Related Injuries

You would think with the amount of work your hands do in a basketball game and how much they play into your ability to rule the court, that there would be more hand and wrist related injuries, but it’s only slightly more than 10% of the injuries that are attributed to this area of the body. That being said, I can’t begin to count the number of times I personally have jammed my finger with the ball. Man that hurts!

How to Prevent Them: Keeping your hands and wrists in peak condition is as important as exercising your legs or arms. But how you look after them is slightly different. Spatial awareness can be crucial. When the ball is coming at you, keep your focus on it right up until you’ve got hold of it in your hands. Looking away seconds before you’ve caught the ball is bound to result in some jammed fingers.

Don’t be afraid to stretch out your wrists like you would any other area of your body before playing. Optimal dexterity can go a long way to keeping you safe and pain-free. Rotate your hands in a circular motion in the air to get them moving and warmed up.

Head, Neck and Face Injuries

neck injury from basketball

Going head to head with another player is great unless it’s in the literal sense, than it’s just downright painful. Lost teeth, black eyes, bloody or broken noses are all par for the course if your not careful and paying attention.

How to Prevent Them: The most simple but obvious way to prevent these types of injury is to keep your head up and your wits about you. Looking out for other players and keeping an eye on your surroundings is going to make all the difference between weather or not you leave the court with all your teeth. I’ve seen so many players take a ball to the face because they either didn’t have their head in the game or they were distracted by the crowd on the sidelines. There is no reason for that to happen if your head is in the game and you are focused on where on the court the ball is. Focus, focus, focus!

Hip, Pelvic and Thigh Area Injuries

Pivoting, running, jumping, and rebounding are all common moves that place extra strain on the players body. Legs, hips and most muscles in that area are prone to a variety of basketball related injuries. Hip strains and bruises can occur from contact on the court or over-extending of muscles and ligaments.

How to Prevent Them: It can be extremely difficult to prevent injuries that occur from contact and some just can’t be prevented at all. Keep in mind that stretching is the number one way to reduce the possibility of injury in this area of the body. Greater muscle flexibility means that you’ll be less likely to over-extend them and injure yourself. Stretching out hips and legs is the smartest way to warm up and be ready to play at peak performance.

Start your morning with exercises that target, activate and engage your hips, pelvic and thigh areas to get the muscles working so they can support you properly the rest of the day. [3]

Squats and lunges are great exercises for injury prevention. They will stretch and strengthen the hip joints and help you begin to build up that flexibility.

Consider exercises that are designed to target your core. This will help improve your balance and stability overall.

Wear appropriate footwear. If your shoes are not well kept and supportive they can exacerbate any previous problems you may have with your hips or thighs. (read The Best Basketball Shoes)

How to Prevent Basketball Injuries in General

Woman stretching before playing basketball

Basketball injury prevention through proper training should begin weeks in advance of training season. Make sure to include pre-season training prep in your calendar as it gets closer in the year.

An astounding number of injuries occur in the second half of a game rather than in the first,. You can probably guess why. injuries occuring in the second half of games may suggest that fatigue plays a big part in court safety. Cardio training can help give you extra energy and endurance to lessen these risks.

Don’t let a lack of time prevent you from getting in a proper warm up. A coach may not like you to be late, but he will definitely not like you to get injured. Take the needed time to do a full and complete warm up with injury prevention in mind.

Remember during your warm up that many injuries stem from three common points of interest in the game.

  • Short portions of high intensity actions
  • Stops and starts of activity
  • Some forceful bouts of physical contact

Keep these things in mind and warm up in a way that will limit the impacts these points can make on you.

Closing Thoughts

The one time I suffered an injury in hoops that wasn’t considered common was as a 16-year-old, already showing some tenacious one-on-one defending, I leaned into my man from behind until he gave me an exaggerated head fake. Unfortunately, my top front tooth stuck into the back of his head. I was guarding a bit too close, and had to have a root canal as a result. True story.



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