Hoop Hurts: Help for Common Basketball Injuries
by Christie Matheson
Each year, athletes take to the courts in pick-up games and leagues. These athletes can get hurt just like the pros and college players—probably even more. Elite players spend much of their time on basketball-focused training, but others tend to think about the game only once and a while or at certain times of the year.
Sports like running and bicycling will not help you get used to the demands of the game. It involves short, sudden bursts, quick stops and starts, and contact. So, if you are planning to play hoops, know that you will need to train to lower the risk of these injuries.
The quick bursts of speed and direction changes can make for sore muscles after a game. Athletes are most likely to have muscle strains early in the season when their body is not yet in game shape. You can lower the risk of some of the early season muscle strains by getting your body ready before the season starts.
If you have a painful muscle strain, ice it right away and keep icing it on and off for a few days or until any swelling has gone down. You can also take pain relievers like ibuprofen.
A sprained ankle can happen when you go up for a rebound in a group of players and come down on someone else's foot or make a sudden cut. These are often sprains to the outside of the ankle.
To care for your ankle, just think "PRICE:" protection, rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Icing will help control the swelling and pain. You may need to see a doctor to suggest a supportive device or to find out if the ankle is sprained or broken.
Ice and elevate a jammed finger right away. You can also take pain relievers, such as ibuprofen. See your doctor if you think your finger might be dislocated, you cannot move it at all, or the end part of the finger stays bent.
A common knee sprain in basketball is a medial collateral ligament (MCL) sprain. It can be caused by either planting then cutting too hard or by hitting the outside of your knee on someone else's planted leg. Preseason leg strengthening may help lower the risk.
Treat MCL sprains with ice even though they do not swell much. Try a knee sleeve for compression and make sure you work on your range of motion as soon as you can. For all knee injuries, it is a good to be seen by a doctor.
Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears are common in the game. Practice jumping and landing balanced on both feet and on the balls of your feet to lower the risk. If you think you might have a torn ACL, get seen by a doctor. It may need to be repaired if you want to keep playing.
Here are a few on-court drills:
Place 4 cones in a square, 8 to 10 feet apart. Stand in the middle of the square and have your drill partner point to a cone. Get yourself to the cone, touch it, and return to the middle as quickly as you can. Before you are back to the middle, your partner should be pointing to the next cone you have to touch. Start with 30 seconds and build up to 1 to 2 minutes. This helps with your ability to change direction quickly and be aware of body position.
Place 6 cones on the court in a zigzag pattern (cones should be about 16 feet apart and at 45° angles). Start at the first cone and sprint to the second, then third, fourth, fifth and sixth. Reverse the pattern and return to the first cone. Repeat for 30 seconds; build up to 1 to 2 minutes. This gives you practice in quick bursts of speed and shifting direction.
Medicine Ball Shuffle
Stand at one end of the court and face your partner who is a foot or two away from you. Do a sideways shuffle for the length of the court, passing the medicine ball back and forth. This works your shuffling ability, balance, strength, and ability to stay low.
American College of Sports Medicine
American Council on Exercise
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
Ankle sprain. FootCareMD—American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society website. Available at: https://www.footcaremd.org/conditions-treatments/ankle/ankle-sprain. Accessed June 29, 2021.
How to treat a jammed finger. USA Basketball website. Available at: https://www.usab.com/youth/news/2011/08/how-to-treat-a-jammed-finger.aspx. Accessed June 29, 2021.
Muscle strain (pulled muscle). Orthopaedic Surgery/Sports Medicine—Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/orthopaedic-surgery/specialty-areas/sports-medicine/conditions-we-treat/muscle-strains.html. Accessed June 29, 2021.
Preventing basketball injuries. Stop Sports Injuries website. Available at:
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Accessed June 29, 2021.
Last reviewed June 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Last Updated: 6/29/2021
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