The most common injuries seen in basketball are sprains of the ankle and knee, followed by overuse injuries to the lower extremities. Ankle sprains are by far the most common injury followed by recurrent ankle sprains.
Lateral Ankle Sprains
Lateral ankle sprains occur when the foot inverts and stretches the ligaments on the lateral side. This typically happens when a player steps on another player or lands inappropriately after jumping.
There are three lateral ligaments: Anterior Talofibular ligament (ATF), Calcaneofibular ligament (CF), and Posterior talofibular ligament (PTF).
Ankle sprains are divided into three severity grades: Grade I, Grade II, and Grade III
- Grade I: Ankle sprains are the most mild. Ligaments are stretched with minimal micro-tears. There will be tenderness, swelling, and stiffness. Patient can usually walk.
- Grade II: Ligaments are partially torn and tender. Patient will have difficulty walking.
- Grade III: Complete Ligament tear. Instability in the joint, with pain and difficulty with walking.
*Injury to the growth plate in growing children is a concern that should be ruled out
* Prophylactic taping, bracing, and balance training can help prevent ankle sprains- however more injury prevention studies are needed.
Medial Collateral ligament Injury can occur when the athlete takes a blow for the lateral side of the knee, thereby over extending the medial collateral ligament.
The Medial Collateral ligament helps stabilize the medial knee from medial movement. While injured a hinged knee brace and several weeks of physical therapy (depending on severity/grade) will be needed to hasten recovery.
Anterior Cruciate Ligament sprain/tear can occur form abrupt turning/pivoting and sometimes from abnormal landing from the air. The ACL prevents excessive anterior movement of the knee joint. As shown below, the vast majority of ACL tears are NON-contact and can be prevented with focused injury prevention strategies. Treatment for a full thickness tear of the ACL is typically surgical in basketball players.
Meniscal tears/Injury can occur from abrupt turning and quick rotation of the leg as often occurs in basketball. Meniscus is a cartilaginous structure that serves as a cushion between the femur and tibia. Injury to this structure can lead to early arthritic changes and pain with quick movements of the lower extremities.
Jumper’s Knee or Patellar Tendinopathy: Patellar tendon begins on the quadriceps muscle and extends down to the tibia. Contraction of the quadriceps leads to straightening of the leg. Jumper’s knee occurs due to overuse of the knee, which can lead to tiny tears in the patellar tendon. Basketball players are often jumping up and down multiple times a day on hardwood predisposing them to jumper’s knee. Physical therapy, patellar bands, and in some cases a targeted ultrasound guided injection are used for treatment.
Runner’s Knee or Patella Femoral Pain Syndrome: This condition is caused by abnormal movement of the patella over the femur, which leads to pain beneath the kneecap from inflamed cartilage. There are numerous causes of this condition including overuse, poor pelvic stability, poor biomechanics, tight quadriceps, or imbalance of muscles. These injuries are typically treated with physical therapy focused on core strengthening and pelvic stability.
By Seethal Motamarri and Mo Mortazavi, MD