Philadelphia 76ers' team physician dishes on basketball fitness tips
This is the fourth in a series of sports medicine articles from the world-renowned Rothman Institute. Series Editors are Rothman doctors Richard H. Rothman MD, Michael G. Ciccotti MD, and John A. Anderson MD.
Basketball is a fantastic way to exercise and has many cardiovascular benefits. However, weekend warriors have to be careful as the game can also lead to a wide range of injuries. Sprained ankle and knee ligaments are common. Basketball players are also subject to eye and mouth injuries, jammed fingers, and stress fractures of the lower legs. The following are some helpful tips to prevent injury and allow playing careers to be stretched out longer:
Stretching is paramount to prevent muscle and tendon damage; they are more prone to injury when they are cold. Some of the more common muscle and tendon injuries seen in basketball are hamstring and Achilles injuries. Hamstring injuries are often simple muscle pulls that can be treated with rest and rehabilitation but unfortunately Achilles tendon injuries often require surgery. A simple warm-up only requires about five minutes and can consist of jumping jacks or light jogging followed by stretching of the upper and lower body. Pay close attention to the hamstring, quadriceps, and achilles/calf areas when stretching to prevent injury to those areas. Hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat each stretch 3 times.
The ability to perform athletically can decline with even minimal amounts of dehydration. In order to prevent dehydration during athletic activity, it is recommended to drink at least 24 ounces of water 1 to 2 hours before athletic activity. You should then drink another 8 ounces or so 15 minutes before exercising and an additional 8 ounces or so every 15 minutes while exercising. These amounts are simply guidelines and the can increase depending on temperature and humidity especially in hot weather.
The most important thing is to wear appropriate footwear. Shoes designed for basketball typically are thick soled and high-topped to provide extra protection against ankle and foot injuries caused by jumping. Ankle guards worn over the socks can reduce the incidence of ankle sprains. Protective knee and elbow pads can guard against abrasions and other soft tissue injuries. Also proper eyewear or sports goggles can protect against eye injuries and use of a mouth guard can protect against injuries to the teeth and mouth.
Cross training is an integral part of staying fit and preventing injury. Since different sports and activities can stress different areas of the body an integrated training program is recommended to achieve lasting results and prevent injury. Basketball tends to be a sport with interval sprinting and cutting with intermittent periods of rest. This type of exercise is different from, say, a three-mile run, where there is continuous exercise but at the same pace. It is recommended to have a balanced or integrated exercise program consisting of different types of exercises to allow your muscles to adapt to varying degrees of stress, fatigue, and resistance. An integrated exercise program usually consists of aerobic exercise, flexibility training, core muscle training, and strength training and is crucial to prevent injury.
If you do start to feel pain when exercising stop right away. Continuing to exercise while injured can cause further damage and make the recovery time longer. Significant pain is never “good pain” and immediate cessation of exercise is appropriate. Basketball players are at particular risk for stress fractures of the lower leg (tibia) and foot. If not recognized and treated promptly these injuries can lead to more significant fractures that can even require emergency surgery as recently seen in the news. Pain on the front of the leg and in the foot that is constant and worse at night are worrisome symptoms. If the pain does not improve with rest and prevents further sports participation then medical care is warranted.
Most injuries sustained while playing basketball are amenable to the R.I.C.E. method which stands for Resting the Injured Area, Icing the area for 20 minutes several times a day, apply a compression wrap to the area to prevent swelling, and elevating the injured are above the heart. As with all injuries if no improvement is seen in a day or two a physician should be contacted. For severe injuries such as fractures, dislocations, or head injuries (concussions), urgent medical help is necessary.
Christopher C. Dodson is a prominent Sports Medicine Surgeon at the world-renowned Rothman Institute. He is the Head Team Physician for the Philadelphia 76ers, Assistant Team Physician for the Philadelphia Eagles and Philadelphia Flyers, and is an Orthopedic Consultant for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates.