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Common Basketball Injuries

Contributor Mark Cullen, MD
5 minute read
A black man holding his knee from a basketball injury.

When people think of sports-related injuries, they often think first of injuries from collision sports, like football, lacrosse, or ice hockey. Although not considered a collision sport, basketball is very much a contact sport with its share of injuries.

“Basketball is a fun sport for players of all ages and skill levels,” says Mark Cullen, MD, a Mass General Brigham sports medicine doctor. “But the fast-paced nature of basketball and constant in-game contact easily contributes to a wide range of injuries.”

Dr. Cullen, who cares for patients at Wentworth-Douglas Hospital, explains the most common basketball injuries and the best treatment options.

What are some of the most common basketball injuries?

For every 1,000 hours of basketball played, athletes can expect anywhere from 6 to 14 injuries according to a study by the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine.

The most common basketball injuries include:

  • Thigh bruises
  • Facial cuts

Ankle sprains

Ankle sprains are easily the most common injury in basketball. Ankle sprains occur most often when you land on another player’s foot. In most cases, the ankle turns inward, stretching the ankle ligaments.

Symptoms of a sprained ankle include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Limited movement
  • Inability to bear weight

Depending on the severity of the injury, it can take anywhere from a few days to a few months to properly heal an ankle sprain. The R.I.C.E. protocol can help control swelling and heal damaged ligaments.

R.I.C.E. calls for:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation

Physical therapy and treatment from team athletic trainers can help speed up recovery and prevent recurrent ankle sprains.

Knee injuries

Jumping and running put a lot of stress on the knees. Three common knee structures injured during basketball include the:

  • Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL): ACL tears are a well-known knee injury that frequently require reconstructive surgery.
  • Meniscus: Meniscus tears are another common basketball injury. 
  • Patella tendon: Patellar tendonitis (or Jumper’s knee) can occur from overuse, especially from running and jumping. It can heal with rest and ice.

Symptoms of these injuries include:  

  • Knee swelling 
  • The inability to put weight on your leg 
  • Occasional popping in the knee

Finger injuries

Basketball is a team sport that requires a lot of passing. Finger fractures and sprains commonly occur when the ball hits the tip of the finger. They typically result in finger pain and swelling. 

Treatment of a finger sprain involves ice and tape. Ice helps decrease pain and swelling. Tape aligns the injured finger with an adjacent finger to protect it while it recovers.

If pain and swelling persist, visit a doctor or athletic trainer for further evaluation. X-rays can evaluate for a fracture. 

If you suspect any of these injuries, lean on your local health care team, starting with your school athletic trainer. They’ll ensure you get proper follow-up to have you back on the court in a safe, quick manner.

Mark Cullen, MD

Sports Medicine Doctor

Mass General Brigham 

Calf muscle strain 

Another common injury in basketball is a calf muscle strain. These occur from a sudden change of direction and jumping. 

Most severe calf strains involve sudden pain in the posterior medial calf muscle. The severity of the muscle strain influences how long it takes to return to the court.

Calf strains may require several weeks of:

  • Rest
  • Immobilization
  • Physical therapy

Achilles tendon tears

A tear of the Achilles tendon has many of the same symptoms as a calf strain. They can happen to both college and professional players and recreational athletes.

Surgery is recommended in most cases, but occasionally doctors may use non-surgical treatment options.

Deep thigh bruising

A deep thigh bruise (contusion) typically occurs when another player’s knee accidentally strikes a player’s thigh muscles. These types of bruises are usually minor but can take 4 to 6 weeks to heal in more severe cases.

Treatment involves using the R.I.C.E. protocol. Rest and ice the affected area before resuming full activity.

Facial cuts

A direct blow from another player can cause a head or face wound.

The eyes, mouth, chin, and nose are frequently injured areas that can bleed significantly. Apply direct pressure to the site of the injury to control the bleeding. More extensive wounds that won’t stop bleeding may require stitches.

Coaches, athletic trainers, and players should make sure that clothing and playing surfaces are cleaned well before play continues.

“If you suspect any of these injuries, lean on your local health care team, starting with your school athletic trainer,” says Dr. Cullen. “They’ll ensure you get proper follow-up to have you back on the court in a safe, quick manner.”

Basketball injury prevention tips

Dr. Culllen recommends these tips to avoid common exercise injuries when playing basketball:

  • Warm-up properly. Always warm up before playing a game or when you’re at practice.
  • Strengthen your core. Weight training will help you build a stronger core to perform and move better on the court.
  • Strength training. Strengthening your lower body improves athletic performance and can help minimize the risk of knee injuries.
  • Stretch. Take time to stretch. Good flexibility decreases the risk of muscle strains and tears.   
  • Wear proper footwear. Basketball shoes minimize the risk of foot and ankle injuries and improve performance.
  • Practice. Proper training improves game-day performance.

Learn about Mass General Brigham Sports Medicine services


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