Managing Common Basketball-Related Injuries

Michael K. Lowe, DPM, FACFAS

Given the considerable demands pro basketball players place on their lower extremities and the increase of missed games due to lower extremity-related injuries, this author emphasizes keys to preventative care to reduce the risk of ankle sprains and metatarsal stress fractures.

Basketball is a very physically demanding sport. At the professional level, it has progressed in my 34 years with the Utah Jazz from a finesse sport to an almost rugby-like sport with tremendous size, speed and strength built into most all of today’s players. Taking a charge from a driving Karl Malone at full speed can be a near death experience for those who are unprepared. (Ask Isiah Thomas, who ended up in the hospital with a large facial laceration after getting blasted by Malone in a game at the Utah Delta Center.)

   The need to keep the players healthy is the first approach in professional basketball. This includes proper diet, weight control, flexibility, proprioception, physical strength (which includes plyometrics and weight training) and proper endurance.

   Basketball is primarily an anaerobic sport with multiple short spurts of intense activities.

   Basketball has more side-to-side cutting, stopping, sudden acceleration and vertical leaping/jumping than it does linear running. The multiple stops, jumps and changes of direction that are required during a game is not something that the physical body of muscle, ligaments, cartilage and bone can adapt or accommodate to in just a month of preseason training. It takes months of concerted effort to strengthen bone, ligaments and cartilage to the stresses required of the repetitive forces to the athlete’s joints.

   Even then, with all of the proper training and hopefully positive accommodation, certain body types (i.e. Yao Ming with a height of 7’6”) cannot handle the stress load of the 82 regular-season games, plus pre- and postseason games.

   The college athlete plays about 30 games during the season and then postseason may take him or her up to a total of 40 games in a season. Alternately, the professional basketball player will play eight preseason games, 82 regular-season games and if he makes it all the way to the NBA Finals, will play another possible 28 games (if each series went to seven games) for a total of well over 100 games during the season. There are very few physical bodies that can stand up to this level of stress loading to joints, tendons and ligaments, let alone the occasional laceration or lost tooth from flying elbows that occur each and every game.

   It is even more amazing when you consider these numbers for John Stockton, a member of the National Basketball Association Hall of Fame and a gold medalist with the “Dream Team” in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.

Games Played: 1,504 of a possible 1,526 (third all-time in NBA history). He played in every single NBA game in 17 of his total 19 seasons.
Minutes Played: 47,764 (fifth all-time in NBA history). Most “good” players never make it past 30,000 minutes.
Career Field Goal Percentage: .515
Career Assists: 15,806 (NBA all-time leader)
Most Assists, Season: 1,164 (1990-91, NBA record)
Most Assists, Game: 28 (1/15/91)
Highest Season Average for Assists: 14.5 (NBA record, 1989-90)
Most Seasons Leading the League in Assists: 9 (1987-88 through 1995-96, NBA record)
Consecutive Seasons Leading the League in Assists: 9 (1987-88 through 1995-96, NBA record)
Career Steals: 3265 (NBA all-time leader).1

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