Hoop Hurts: Help for Common Basketball Injuries

Each year, while NBA players defy gravity and college basketball players fight to survive in March Madness, recreational athletes take to the courts in pick-up games and organized leagues. Like the pros and college players, these athletes are subject to injuries—probably to an even greater extent. Elite players dedicate much of their lives to basketball-specific training, but recreational players tend to think about basketball only sporadically or at certain times of the year.

Aerobic sports like running and bicycling won't help you get used to all of the physical demands of basketball. Basketball involves short, intermittent bursts of activity, quick stops and starts, and physical contact. So if you are planning to play hoops, be aware that making the transition to a different type of sport means training to avoid different kinds of injuries.

Muscle Strains

The quick bursts of speed and direction changes in basketball can make for sore muscles after a game. Athletes are most likely to experience muscle strains early in the season when their conditioning level is not where it needs to be. Even late in the season, however, you could strain a muscle when you are fatigued at the end of a game.

Recreational basketball players can avoid some of the early season muscle trauma by working on strength and conditioning prior to the season.

If you experience a painful muscle strain, ice it right away and keep icing it on and off for a few days or until any swelling has stabilized. You can also take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen , which is helpful for relieving the pain of many minor injuries.

Ankle Sprains

When you go up for a rebound amidst a group of scrambling players and come down on someone else's foot or make a sudden cut, you face the possibility of a sprained ankle. These are usually inversion ankle sprains to the ligaments on the outside of the ankle.

To treat an ankle sprain, just remember "PRICE:" protection, rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Icing especially will help control the swelling that can cause pain over the several days following an injury. You may need to see a physician to suggest a supportive device or to determine if the ankle is sprained or broken.

Jammed Finger

If you jam a finger, ice and elevate it right away. You can also take over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen. If you think your finger might be dislocated, you cannot move it at all, or the end part of the finger stays bent, see your doctor.

Knee Sprain

A common knee sprain in basketball is a medial collateral ligament (MCL) sprain. These injuries 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 prevent many knee injuries.

Treat MCL sprains with ice (even though they do not generally 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 idea to get evaluated by a physician.

Torn ACL

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears are fairly common in basketball. Practice jumping and landing properly balanced on both feet and on the balls of your feet to prevent injury. If you think you might have a torn ACL, get evaluated by an a doctor. A torn ACL may need to be reconstructed if you want to continue to participate in activities such as basketball.

Preseason Drills

Ideally, start training for basketball season before it starts Try to get at least a base level of conditioning built up in the weeks or months prior to the season. Focus on strength training squats, plyometrics, and jumping drills as well as drills that improve your ability to move well on the court.

Here are a few on-court drills:

Star Drill

Place 4 cones in a square, 8 to 10 feet apart. Stand in the center of the square, and have your drill partner point to a cone. Get yourself to the cone, touch it, and return to the center as quickly as you can. Before you are back to the center, your partner should be pointing to the next cone you have to touch. Start with 30 seconds, and build up to 1-2 minutes. This improves your ability to change direction quickly and be aware of body position.

Zigzag Drill

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 1-2 minutes. This gives you practice in quick bursts of speed and shifting direction.

Medicine Ball Shuffle

Stand at one end of the court, facing your partner who is a foot or 2 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
Canadian Public Health


Ankle sprain. FootCareMD—American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society website. Available at:
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Accessed January 18, 2017.
How to treat a jammed finger. USA Basketball website. Available at:
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Published December 14, 2016. Accessed January 18, 2017.
Johns Hopkins sports medicine patient guide to muscle strain. Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at:
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Accessed January 18, 2017.
Preventing basketball injuries. Stop Sports Injuries website. Available at:
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Accessed January 18, 2017.
Last reviewed January 2017 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 2/5/2015

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