How to Prevent the Most Common Knee Injuries in Basketball

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We take a look at the main risk factors for knee injuries in basketball and how you can protect yourself on the court.

With high-speed turns and frequent jumps, basketball can put a lot of stress on your knees. If you shoot hoops at any level, it’s important to understand the common injuries associated with the sport and how you can prevent them.

ACL TEARS

An ACL tear is a rupture in your anterior cruciate ligament, which is vital to the stabilization of your knee. Typically, this type of injury is caused by sudden changes in force and direction. In basketball, this can take the form of rapid pivots, turns, and jumps.

ACL tears are acute injuries, meaning they are caused by a single instance of force or impact, as opposed to injuries caused by overuse. Therefore, a good method of prevention is building up the strength of your knees to withstand higher levels of stress. Keep yourself in shape and develop your strength and flexibility as you work toward more rigorous levels of activity.

If you tear your ACL, you will probably hear a loud pop followed by weakness in your knee and extreme swelling. If it’s only a partial tear, you may still maintain some stability in your knee. Regardless of the severity of the tear, getting a diagnosis from an orthopedic professional is an important next step. Treatment for an ACL tear normally includes a combination of medication, physical therapy, and arthroscopic surgery. Patients are generally able to walk two weeks after surgery and can typically get back to on the court within six months.

PATELLAR TENDONITIS (JUMPER’S KNEE)

Patellar tendonitis, or “jumper’s knee,” occurs when the patellar tendon — which connects kneecap to shinbone — becomes injured or inflamed. This injury stems primarily from repeated jumping on hard surfaces, which can cause an overload of stress on the knee. Those who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis or who have used steroids in the past are at increased risk of jumper’s knee.

Symptoms of of patellar tendonitis differ based on the severity of the injury. With a moderate case of jumper’s knee, you will experience pain only after the game is over, and your knee will still be completely functional. If the problem continues, you will begin to feel pain both during and after play, though most athletes are still able to perform. Eventually, you will develop chronic pain that has a noticeable impact on how you play. At the most severe stage, the patellar tendon will tear completely.

If treated in its less severe stages, jumper’s knee can be managed with physical therapy and simply by scaling back physical activity. To repair a full tear, however, surgery is required. Early recognition and consultation with an orthopedic professional will get you back to full strength and playing your best.

In terms of prevention, proper pre-game warm-ups are key — you don’t want to be jumping with cold muscles. Warm-ups are most effective when they include low-intensity cardiovascular work, along with dynamic stretching.

MENISCAL TEARS

Tearing your meniscus means you have ruptured the cartilage cushion in your knee. In basketball, this type of injury is most commonly caused by forceful rotation of the knee while the foot is planted. With a consistent stretching regimen, including dynamic stretching before practice and static stretching afterwards, you can build resilience in your knees and help prevent injury.

Meniscal tears will result in knee pain (especially when walking), tenderness under pressure, swelling, and significant limitations to the knee’s range of motion and weight-bearing capacity.

If the tear is severe enough, you may experience consistent locking of the joint.

For more stable tears, a regimen of rest, icing, compression, elevation, and physical therapy will help treat the symptoms. Recovery can occur in as little as five weeks, but it may take longer before you feel fully comfortable returning to competition. For tears that are more significant and cause buckling or locking, arthroscopic surgery may be necessary.

SPRAINS AND STRAINS

Knee sprains occur when you injure the ligaments that connect your leg bones to your knee joint, and can be the result of a severe twist, hyperextension, or external impact. Symptoms include throbbing pain, bruising, swelling, and an inability to move the knee.

Strains, on the other hand, occur when you damage the corresponding tendons. These injuries can be caused by overuse or a sudden unnatural motion. Symptoms include pain, swelling, muscle spasms, and difficulty moving.

The key to decreasing your chances of spraining or straining your knee is paying attention to your body and what is happening around you on the court. Play defensively: a blow to the knee can be as harmful as any type of twist or overextension. If you feel pain or weakness in your knee, it’s important to take a break and rest.

Treatments vary depending on the particular ligament or tendon injured, but your orthopedic specialist will generally recommend a physical therapy regimen as part of your recovery plan. Arthroscopic surgery may be necessary in the most severe cases.

If you think you may be suffering from one or more of these common basketball injuries, set up an appointment with an orthopedic specialist today. At New York Bone & Joint Specialists, our experienced doctors and surgeons can identify the cause of your condition and develop a comprehensive plan for treatment and recovery.

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