By: Nicholas Boon

As an athlete, coach, or parent, it is important to have a basic understanding of the body and the risks associated with a dynamic sport such as basketball. Basketball is considered one of the more injury prone sports at all levels of competition; thankfully, these injuries are typically minor and are both treatable and preventable. Today we will take a look at the two most common areas of injury in basketball, namely ankle injuries (primarily twists and sprains) and knee injuries (primarily ligament tears) and address some treatment and prevention strategies for both.

Ankle Injuries
Ankle twists and sprains are the single most common injury in basketball. This is the case in youth house leagues all the way up to the NBA. Regular lateral movement (such as making a cut, or sliding on defense) alongside frequent jumping and landing (through lay-ups, jump shots, or rebounds) exposes ankles to considerable risk. As such, ankle strength and mobility are paramount to the development of a young basketball player.

Thankfully, treating an ankle sprain is a relatively easy and simple process. Always remember RICE:
Rest… Get the athlete off the court as soon as possible. Rest is vital as the ankle cannot heal itself if you do not give it a chance. A physical therapist or sport medicine professional will provide an accurate timeline for recovery.
Ice… As a means of limiting swelling and easing pain, apply ice, a cold pack, or anything else from the freezer. A 10-minute-on/10-minute-off schedule is recommended (you don’t want to leave the ice on for an extended period of time).
Compression… Make sure you keep the shoe on! The athlete may want to take it off to relieve some of the pressure – but that pressure is important both for limiting swelling and to provide much needed support around the ankle joint.
Elevation… Another strategy to control the swelling is to prop the foot up on a bench or chair (ideally on something soft). This goes hand-in-hand with rest.
The best way to prevent ankle injuries is to strengthen, and mobilize, the joint through exercises. The exercises should focus on a) the range of motion of the ankle, and b) strengthening the muscles surrounding the ankle joint. As these exercises are typically low impact and low stress, we recommend that you perform them as often as possible (ideally daily) and incorporate them into your regular training program or warm-up routine. Some sample exercises are listed below:

Rocking ankle mobilization (can also be done standing at a wall):

Ankle alphabet (can also be done standing at a wall):

Single Leg Balance (begin with just stands, progress to bounces):

A Word on Ankle Braces
Ankle braces and ankle taping are popular strategies for treating and preventing ankle injuries. They are proven to be effective in limiting ankle injuries, particularly for athletes who have suffered an ankle injury or are prone to ankle instability. Take heed, however, as the effect that ankle braces may have on the rest of the body is unclear. The point of contention is that the brace limits the lateral mobility of the ankle, forcing that movement onto the next available joint – the knee. However, the knee is not designed to accommodate lateral movement, which may potentially lead to increased risk for knee injuries.

Knee Injuries
Knees are exposed to similar stresses as the ankle – lateral movement, regular impacts, contact with other players – but the potential for injury can be much more serious. Ligament injuries, primarily ACL and MCL tears, are especially common, and typically result from a forceful change of direction or awkward landing when the knee is improperly “braced” by the surrounding muscles. It should also be noted that female athletes are much more likely to suffer ACL injuries than males (due to the differences in hip-knee angles).

Unfortunately, there is not much you can do to treat a knee injury at the moment. Assist the athlete off the court where you can lie them down. Some coaches may be trained in some basic knee injury tests, including the Anterior Drawer Test and Valgus Stress Test. While we encourage coaches (and parents) to familiarize themselves with these tests, the injury will need to be assessed by a medical professional.

Similarly to the ankle, the best form of treatment is prevention – and again, exercise programs are a proven success. 10 minutes a day of simple, low intensity exercises can be highly effective in controlling injury risk. For those coaches working with female teams and athletes, this is especially important to incorporate into your daily routine. We encourage athletes and coaches to approach a sports medicine or athletic therapy professional in designing a formal program; however we have included some effective exercises below:

Body Weight Squat (can progress to single leg squat):

Single Leg Hip Hinge:

Single Leg Lateral Jumps:

Finally, for some additional resources on youth sport injuries and prevention programs check out these links:

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