It’s safe to say that no sport demands more from an athlete’s feet and ankles than Basketball. Every movement on the court starts with the player’s feet – every shot, every rebound, and every pass.
The sudden turns, side-to-side cutting, running, stopping, sudden acceleration, changes in direction, jumping, and landing, combined with the immense size of pro basketball players, creates an almost perfect storm of injury possibilities for the lower extremities. Professional athletes train constantly on and off-court, in-season and out of season, yet their bones still fracture and their tendons and ligaments tear.
Here are the most common basketball injuries to the foot and ankle:
An ankle sprain occurs when the foot rolls inward or outward and stretches or tears the ligaments in the ankle. In basketball, this usually occurs when the player lands improperly after a layup, or steps or lands on another player’s foot. Swelling and bruising occur, and the foot can’t bear weight. Mild ankle sprains heal relatively quickly, but a severe sprain can disable a player for 8 weeks or more.
Fractures of the metatarsals (the long bones in your feet), the tibia (shinbone), and the navicular bone (on the top of your foot near the ankle), are what podiatrists refer to as overuse injuries. As an athlete trains, bones actually develop tiny fractures which heal quickly and strengthen the bone. However, their adjustment is slow, and when outside stress exceeds the bone’s capability to withstand it, the bone fractures. The repeated pounding of running, jumping, and landing is especially difficult on the 5th metatrasal bone on the outside of the foot, and is the bone most often fractured by basketball players.
Another overuse injury, plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the plantar fascia, the band of tissue which connects the arch of the foot to the heel. Repeated pounding on hard surfaces – the basketball court – subjects the plantar fascia to stress, and it reacts with inflammation and pain. Treatment and rest are essential at the first sign of pain from plantar fasciitis, because if an athlete continues to play on the sore foot, the condition will only worsen.
Your achilles tendon is responsible for every step you take, and you couldn’t make that jump shot if you didn’t have one. You’re asking a lot of this tendon during the game and sometimes it can’t keep up, and becomes strained and irritated (itis).
The achilles tendon attaches your calf muscle to your heel, and when you damage it, you’ll usually feel a knife-like pain in your leg, just below the calf muscle. It maybe accompanied by swelling. If you really do a job on it and cause it to rupture, you may be able to walk, but it will be impossible to jump until it’s healed. An evaluation from a podiatrist is absolutely essential to speed its healing.
For any of these injuries, the sooner that RICE begins, the less secondary damage you’ll incur. (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). Do not continue to play or the injury may become much worse. Have your injury examined by a podiatrist as soon as possible.
How to avoid basketball injuries
Proper athletic conditioning
Strong and flexible ankles reduce the occurrence of injuries, improve performance on court, and decrease the time lost to an injury. Weekend athletes in pick-up basketball games are most frequently injured due to their lack of conditioning and weight training. That Michael Jordan-style layup looks beautiful, but hurts like mad coming down, especially if you land on another player’s foot.
Cold muscles are more prone to injury, so stretch and warm up before games with a light run, walking, biking, or calisthenics like jumping jacks and basic stretches. Stretch your muscles after the game also. If you’re out of shape, ease into it and don’t try to play like you did when you weighed 25 pounds less.
Wear new basketball shoes
They’re called basketball shoes for a good reason – they’re designed to support and accommodate the foot for the unique stresses of the game. If you play every weekend, your shoes should be updated every two months, as the padding and support wears out quickly. If you’re in high school or college, and working out almost every day, you should replace your shoes every month during the season.
The padding and stability a good pair of basketball shoes offer is your best defense against injury. Once your foot begins to rock or slide, even a little inside your shoes, your chance of injury goes up exponentially. As you accumulate playing hours on the shoe, the synthetic uppers slowly begin to fatigue and stretch in response to your starting and stopping motion. Slowly, the foot gains more and more rotational movement within the shoe, which in turn offers less and less protection to the foot.
Wear custom orthotics if you had a previous injury
Hands down, the best way to avoid re-injuring your foot or to provide additional arch support is to have custom orthotics made by a podiatrist. Proper balance, support, and foot/leg alignment are not only necessary for you to consistently play at your best level, but for your protection as well. In fact, the use of custom orthotics in the NBA has increased from about 40% in 1990 to more than 80% today.