Injuries Are An Unavoidable Truth in Basketball

The 2017/2018 NBA season hardly tipped off and there were two season ending injuries in the first 2 days. Celtics player, Gordon Hayward severely dislocated his left ankle and fractured his left tibia while playing their season opener against Cleveland. Hours later, New York Nets player, Jeremy Lin,  ruptured his patella in a game against the Pacers. Only hours earlier Lin had tweeted a message on Gordon’s injury. No one likes to see injuries of any kind anywhere to anyone. If you do, I suggest you seek medical help yourself. However, injuries are an unavoidable truth in basketball or sport for that matter.

Injuries commonly occur, however when those injuries occur on a national stage, for all to see,  it adds an aspect to the game many don’t want to think about. Serious injuries are an unavoidable truth in basketball. While I am not a medical practitioner, here are some of the more common injuries which occur in our sport, and some advice on managing and avoiding injury. This is provided as general advice only, always seek the advice of a medical practitioner.

The most common injuries in basketball.

Ankle Injuries

Treated with Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation and Referral (R.I.C.E.R.). The sprained ankle is among the most frequent injuries in our sport. Sprains may affect the growth plates in children. Therefore, young athletes should seek medical advice. In my younger day, I discovered under x-ray, I had a fragment chip off my ankle which had occurred in a previous sprain. I only became aware when assessed for a different injury. So, it always pays to seek medical advice regardless. Something I failed to do in that instance. Give your ankle time to repair and seek physio exercises to help repair nerves and strengthen the area for best recovery.

Jammed Fingers

Finger injuries in basketball usually result from contact with the ball. A ball connecting at the point of the finger at speed usually results in bruising and swelling at the joint. Taping the injured finger to an adjoining finger may provide relief. Ice the area as soon as possible. Fingers catching on clothing or contacting a player or the ball can result in breaks and dislocations. Seek medical advice to confirm no fractures have occurred. Especially if swelling does not go down. Deep bone bruising of the fingers can take weeks to heal. Avoid wearing rings when playing pickup basketball as this may complicate managing this type of injury should it occur while playing.


More commonly referred to as a “cork” is the result of a severe impact to an area where compression occurs against the hard surface of a bone. This results in a deep rupture of muscle tissue which causes haemorrhaging to occur. Pain, mild swelling and loss of some movement may occur. Wearing protective padding my reduce the risk of this type of injury. If this injury occurs commence R.I.C.E.R. on the affected area.

Knee Injuries

Heavy stress on the knee during basketball makes the ligaments more susceptible to high risk injury. Jumping, landing, running, defensive footwork all increase the chance of injury. Injury to the Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) is the most common and is usually a result of an impact to the outside of the knee. Icing and rest to reduce swelling and allow repair is usually enough. Unfortunately, Meniscus Tears are also relatively common and can be painful. This is a cartilage injury. The meniscus stabilises the knee joint. The tear size determines the treatment required. Seek medical advice. Severe tears may require surgery.

Another relatively common injury which usually requires surgery is Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) tear or rupture. If you injure your ACL you may lose full function of the knee. Like the Meniscus, the ACL helps stabilise the knee. Damage usually occurs due to sudden stops, jumps or changes of direction. Patellar tears similar to Jeremy Lin’s injury mentioned above is where the Patellar Tendon separates from the knee cap at the front of the knee. This requires surgery. Knee cap dislocation can occur when the knee cap becomes dislodged with impact. This usually requires a physician to relocate the bone.


Knee Hyperextension is when the knee joint bends the wrong way, which often results in swelling, pain and tissue damage. A sprain or rupture of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), or popliteal ligament (the ligament along the back of the knee) can occur in severe cases.

Deep Bone Bruising

While skin bruising and tears is extremely common in basketball due to general contact in play, deep bone bruising can result after severe impact. The most common symptom of a deep bone bruise is pain local to the injured body region. Unlike superficial skin bruises, deep bone bruises can cause severe pain for several months. Bone bruising is where slight damage occurs to the bone during impact resulting in tiny fibers of bone breaking apart.

Facial/Head Injuries

Given the high finish when shooting it is not uncommon for participants to receive contact on the face. Contact may cause facial cuts, eye injuries and facial fractures. Stitches or butterfly clips treat cuts. Elbows and fingers contacting the eye in play can cause damage. Players should keep their nails cut to prevent damaging another individual should their fingers contact another’s eye.

In extreme cases eye impacts may result in blindness, either temporary or permanent. Ophthalmologist should assess eye impacts. Sometimes broken nose, fractured jaw, cheek bones or eye sockets may also occur when impacted by open hand or elbows contacting the face. The head contacting the floor can result in fractures and damaged or lost teeth. Wearing a mouth guard can help reduce this risk. In many instances sporting face masks may be worn to help protect the damaged area during play, allowing the injury to heal.

Concussion is a brain injury where the brain shifts inside the skull by direct impact or a whiplash motion (i.e. where the head is snapped forwards and/or backwards). This can occur as a result of contact with a player during play, the playing surface or ball. Physical rest is important for recovery, in addition to cognitive rest. Cognitive rest helps the brain heal. An actively engaged brain takes longer to heal. Concussion may result in headaches, temporary memory loss, blurred vision, loss of consciousness. Recovery times vary depending on severity. Symptoms can last from days to months to even longer.

Shoulder Injuries

Dislocated shoulders and broken collarbones (Clavicle) are not uncommon in basketball, however the most common injury is impingement caused by inflammation as a result of contact on the shoulder usually when a player is rebounding or shooting. Treatments include anti-inflammatory medications, steroidal injections and surgery. 5% to 10% of clavicle fractures require surgical treatment. Slings are used to stabilise the collarbone.

 Broken/Fractured Legs or Limbs

Usually result from impact injuries where contact occurs with an object or another person. It probably goes without saying, there are as many treatments as there are bones in the body. A broken bone happens when one of your bones becomes cracked or broken into multiple pieces. Broken bones, also known as a fractures, usually aren’t life threatening, but they do require immediate medical care. Symptoms include intense pain that increases with movement, numbness, swelling, visible deformity, bone protruding through skin, heavy bruising or bleeding at the injury site. Initially stop any bleeding and immobilise the injured area, if able always apply cold to the area. Help comfort the injured player and seek professional medical help (i.e. call for an ambulance or take immediately to a doctor). If you suspect injury to head, neck or back you should immediately call for a medical practitioner and avoid moving the individual.

Other Common Overuse Injuries

Shin Splints (Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome – MTSS) causes pain in the front lower leg along the shin bone. The primary cause is running and other athletic related activity. Stress and re-stress (overuse) trauma causes soft and hard tissue damage. Seek medical advice when experiencing MTSS as this can be the result of various issues. Treatment includes prolonged rest and reduced activity.

Achilles Tendon Injuries are unfortunately also common in basketball. The Achilles tendon links calf muscles to the heel bone. Running regularly can cause wear and tear of the Achilles tendon, causing pain and swelling. Overuse, rapid increases in physical activity and not warming up correctly before exercise can increase the risk of tear or rupture. While minor to moderate Achilles injuries can heal on their own with rest and time and anti-inflammatory medications. Controlled Motion Ankle (CAM) Boots may help treat a ruptured Achilles. Severe cases may require surgery. Most surgeons will recommend you commence physiotherapy about one week post-op. It is important to not over-stress your Achilles tendon repair. Seek a physiotherapist experienced in Achilles tendon rupture to assist your rehabilitation for the best outcome.

Some ways to reduce injury risk.

Here are some risk reduction approaches.

  • Athletes should have a physical check before participating, following their doctor’s suggestions for injury prevention.
  • Maintain good hydration, drink water.
  • Pay attention to your training environment, playing surfaces, lighting, other objects etc.
  • Maintain a good fitness level, including proper diet.
  • Stretch adequately prior to physical activity and develop a recovery routine after exercise.
  • Increase activity levels progressively after long periods of inactivity.
  • Wear appropriate equipment to reduce risks e.g. mouth guards, knee pads, ankle braces/strapping, adequate footwear etc.
  • More is not always better. Avoid overuse injuries and pressure to over train to reduce fatigue/stress and avoid burn out.
  • Seek professional sport specific advice to understand your bio mechanics with organisations like Acceleration Australia.
  • After recovery, seek medical advice about when to return to activity and obtain a clearance to play.

It is clear injuries are an unavoidable truth in basketball, however health benefits to participating outweigh the risks. Many people participate in basketball and are fortunate never to encounter serious setbacks with injury. Ozswoosh hope this information has helped you consider the risks and made you aware you should always seek medical advice as both a preventative and injury management strategy. For professional athletes your body is your tool of the trade, so to earn income, you need to look after it.

If you liked this article be sure to check our other posts. Feel free to share the knowledge on social media and contribute to the conversation by commenting below.

Article written by Coach Rowe
Ozswoosh Academy Principal

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