Slam Dunk Strategies To Prevent Basketball Injuries

Authored by: Dr. Niteesh Bharara

A love of basketball runs deep. Once you’ve played the game, it’s hard to give it up. That’s why so many adults are part of recreational basketball leagues – long after they’ve stopped competing as student athletes. But beware! Americans are more likely to injure themselves playing basketball than any other sport. Between 2012 and 2021, more than 4.4 million injuries treated at emergency departments occurred while playing basketball — that’s more than a quarter (26%) of all sports-related injuries.

There are a number of reasons why.

  • Basketball can quickly become a contact sport.
  • If you play most of the game — you’re likely running 2 miles or more.
  • The fast pace nature of basketball can be tough on knees, ankles, wrists, shoulders, backs and more — especially as people age.

So what do you need to know to keep up and stay injury free and in the game? Let’s jump into this topic and talk about it.

For the love of the game

A love of basketball runs deep for so many — including me. Once you’ve played the game, it’s hard to give it up. That’s why so many adults are part of recreational basketball leagues — long after they’ve stopped competing as student athletes. But injuries abound because this fast-moving game is competitive — and it can be hard on an aging body.

I’ve been playing basketball since I was a kid — probably five or six years old. I played all the way through college and didn’t want to give up the game after that so I’ve kept playing. I’ve been in one League now for the last 5 years. We have a good group of guys that like to come out and play every week and it’s fantastic. It’s really a great way to get some exercise and get your mind off of things. I’m a big fan not only of the game, but of the health benefits this kind of full body exercise brings. There’s a great social element too.

Leagues & Knees….plus backs, elbows, shoulders, ankles and more.

Our League includes 20 somethings and 50 somethings and we’re all very competitive. But we also know each one of us has our own day jobs and we don’t want to get hurt. So we play competitively, but we don’t play to injure anybody. We are out there to have a good time. Despite that, injuries still happen and I do end up seeing a lot of guys in my League as patients. There are a lot of ankle sprains, twisted knees, meniscal and shoulder injuries. Most recently, we had a guy who tore his Achilles and so when we’re playing in Leagues, we have to be aware of the injury risk…and I think focus on what we can do to minimize it.

dr. bharara shooting a basketball

Acknowledge Aging

The fact is, we’re all aging which means we’re a little slower and definitely stiffer than we once were. We also need to recognize we can’t play like we did in our 20s. We all likely need more stretching than we used to and it’s not a great idea to just saunter onto the court and expect your body will be limbered up.

So it’s really important that we take conditioning seriously.

  • Take at least 5 minutes (if not more) to stretch before you play and don’t skip that if you’re running late. We do 20–25 minutes — making sure we stretch our lower body, neck and upper body. Prioritize it.
  • Warm up cardio wise. Don’t just jump into a fierce game. When you’re younger and worked with coaches, they made us all stretch and warm up. But now, everybody comes at a different time and we’re all really stressed about making sure that we get there in time to play without wasting each others time so instead of warming up — I see a ton of people bend forward and backward, maybe shoot one basket and go. And I can tell you — that’ just not enough for your body.
  • Condition off the court — make sure you’re doing some strengthening, cardio and I highly recommend yoga too, and not just playing basketball. Engaging in a variety of forms of exercise will help you stay limber, fit and strong. I think it’s really important that you do spend the time in the week to really make sure your body is ready to play the next sport. I like to do a lot of different things.
  • Pay attention to your body’s signals. If your back hurts regularly after you play — that’s your body’s sign to increase your conditioning or check in with a doctor like me or a physical therapist to see what’s going on.
  • Take it easy — not in the competitiveness of your game but build in breaks. In our League, we play short games and rotate people in an out rather than one game for an hour and a half. Breaking it up gives everyone a chance to play and everyone a chance to catch their breath and rest too.
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Don’t sit on an injury too long — If your issue doesn’t resolve in 48 hours and you still have a problem, it’s not a good idea just to get back in there and say, “you know what, I’m just going to play through it”. Seek help and make sure everything is okay. We know that when you have an injury, it’s really important to try to address it early instead of address it later on. The longer you wait, the worse and injury can get and that can make it harder to treat. Most of the time we see minor issues resolve in 48 hours so if it’s longer than that — get someone to take a look at it.

Consider the variety of treatments out there to help — I use a lot of regenerative medicine to help with the kinds of injuries you see from playing basketball and we’re seeing professional athletes use regenereative medicine a lot too. Regenerative medicine uses your own body to promote healing and I have treated knee injuries, rotator cuff injuries, Achilles tendon problems, hip issues like labral tears and much more. We have an ability with injuries like this to get the body to heal but it’s really important to address it earlier than later if you want to stay in the game.

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