Basketball injuries can sideline season

By Adam Smith, M.D.

Basketball season is in full swing. While a championship season isn’t made in the first half of the season, injuries can quickly derail any team’s hopes for a championship run. Basketball injuries are varied and may be due to repetitive injury or a single event. The most common injuries to basketball players include injuries to the knee and ankle.

Knee Injuries
Injuries to the knee when playing basketball are acute or chronic. Chronic injuries usually include patellar tendinitis (also called “jumper’s knee”) or iliotibial band friction syndrome, also caused by repetitive jumping. Both can be severely limiting. Anti-inflammatory medications, bracing, therapy and rest may all be beneficial in the treatment of these overuse syndromes.
Acute injuries to the knee include injuries to the ligaments, menisci (disc structures within the knee) and articular cartilage (the protective layer of the knee joint). Ligament injuries most commonly include injury to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) or medial collateral ligament (MCL). Full tears of the ACL and/or MCL can result in significant knee instability and are usually treated with reconstruction. Initial treatment includes stabilizing the limb and assessment by trained medical personnel.

Menisci are usually injured with twisting or torsion-type injuries. Injury to the meniscus usually causes locking, catching or giving way with the knee. Most of these injuries do not heal and require surgical treatment to regain maximal function.

Damage to articular cartilage can be caused by repetitive trauma (wear and tear) or by an acute injury in which large pieces of cartilage become dislodged. Treatment, usually based on severity of the injury, can include medications, bracing or surgical treatments, which might involve cartilage restoration-type procedures.

Ankle Injuries
Injuries to the ankle are extremely common in basketball athletes. Most are simple and heal quickly. However, some ankle injuries can be severe and slow to heal.

Ankle sprains occur when a player’s ankle turns inward or outward in an awkward manner. Most of these injuries occur when a player lands on an opponent’s foot, causing the planted foot to roll into an everted or inverted position.

This awkward landing usually causes partial tearing of the lateral and/or medial ligaments of the ankle. While initial swelling can be impressive, athletes usually can recover quickly and return to play with minimal lost time.

More severe ankle sprains, commonly called “high ankle” sprains, involve injury to the ligaments between the tibia and fibula. Recovery from this injury can take several weeks with patients frequently needing a walking boot and crutches.

Achilles tendon tears typically occur in more mature male athletes. This injury is frequently seen in church or recreation league games, and usually occurs after a forceful pushoff with the foot. Patients usually describe a loud audible pop and severe pain in the posterior ankle with subsequent loss of plantarflexion. Prompt evaluation by an orthopedic surgeon is recommended.

Stress fractures in basketball most commonly occur in the foot and lower leg (tibia). These typically occur due to a rapid increase in activity level or from overtraining. Once diagnosed, a period of immobilization and non-weight bearing is recommended. Athletes can return to play once they are pain free and the fracture has completely healed.

Other injuries to the ankle include bone contusions, growth plate injuries and peroneal and posterior tibial tendon tears. All of these injuries can be problematic and should be evaluated by a physician.