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Safety Tips: Basketball

From the asphalt courts of Harlem to the high school gyms of Indiana, basketball is a way of life for millions of American teens. It may be fun to play and great exercise, but basketball is also a contact sport, and injuries happen a lot. Also, since basketball is played year-round, indoors and out, many players get repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) like tendonitis.

To help make sure you're doing everything you can to stay safe on the basketball court, follow these safety tips.

Why Is Basketball Safety Important?

Fortunately, very few basketball injuries are life threatening. Some (like broken bones, concussions, and ligament tears) can be quite serious, though. And while playing through the pain might seem noble, it can lead to serious muscle and joint problems over time.

Sprained ankles are the most common basketball injuries, but jammed or broken fingers, bruises, bloody or broken noses, and poked eyes are all too common as well. When playing outdoors, abrasions (particularly to the palms and fingers) are always a risk.

Indoor ball presents its own hazards in the form of walls and bleachers, and players are bound to collide going after loose balls and rebounds wherever they play.

Gear Guidelines

If you've got two people, a ball, and a basketball hoop, you've got just about everything you need for a basketball game. But this doesn't mean you don't need to pay attention to what you wear, especially on your feet.

Before you take the court, take steps to protect yourself by always wearing the following:

Where to Play

Since basketball can involve anywhere from two to 10 players, it can be played in small spaces as easily as giant arenas. Driveways, playgrounds, gyms, and barnyards are all potential courts and present basketball players with an ever-changing variety of surfaces.

Regardless of where you choose to play, you should always inspect the court before you start and make sure it is free of debris, particularly broken glass (ouch!) and loose gravel. The court surface should also be free of any cracks, holes, or irregularities that could lead to sprained or twisted ankles.

If you're going to play outside at night, be sure the court is well lit and in a safe area. Indoor courts should give you plenty of distance between the edges of the court and any walls, bleachers, or other obstacles. Basket stands and any walls near them should be well padded and properly secured. Store extra equipment like balls, gym bags, and other gear where they won't interfere with players going after loose balls.

Before Tip-Off

As with many sports, basketball requires running, jumping, and other athletic movements. Staying in good shape year-round will not only make you better at these actions, it will help reduce your risk of injury and improve your stamina so you can play harder for longer periods of time. Be sure to get plenty of exercise before the season starts, and eat healthy foods.

Warm up and stretch before you start playing. This doesn't mean just shooting a few hoops or dribbling with both hands. Do some jumping jacks or run in place for a couple of minutes to warm up your muscles before stretching. Dynamic stretching uses many muscle groups in a sport-specific way, so ask your coach about stretches to add to your warm-up. It's a good idea to stretch after a game or practice, too.

Practice shooting, dribbling, layups, and running the court before you try to duplicate these maneuvers during a game. Knowing how to do what you want to do will make your movements less awkward and less prone to injury. And naturally, know the rules and how to play safely before you compete against other players.

During Game Play

Once the ball is put in play, things will start to move quickly on the court. Know where your teammates and any opponents are at all times. This will help you avoid potentially painful collisions.

Fouling other players will not only hurt your team and possibly land you a seat on the bench, it's also a very common source of injuries. Play within the rules, with no shoving, tripping, or holding, and always obey the officials. Never deliberately or flagrantly foul another player.

If you get tired during the course of a game, ask to come out for a while to catch your breath, and be sure to stay well hydrated. Heat-related illness and dehydration are risks, particularly on hot days or sunny, outdoor courts.

If you feel pain in any of your joints or muscles, stop playing right away. Don't resume playing until the pain goes away or you get clearance from a doctor.

Lastly, know where the ball is at all times. This may seem obvious, but many players get hurt by being hit with the ball when they aren't looking. Basketballs are hard enough to easily break a nose or a finger.

Excessive Play

With summer AAU programs, school and church leagues, travel teams, camps, and all-star games to choose from, lots of guys and girls spend the whole year playing basketball. This can lead to more than just burnout. Strains and sprains, tendonitis, growth plate injuries, and stress fractures can get very painful and debilitating if untreated.

Always tell a coach or parent if you're feeling any pain, and never ignore any tweaks, spasms, or discomfort you feel while playing. Ignoring overuse injuries will only make them harder to recover from in the long run.

If you have any concerns that you're playing too much basketball, work with your parents and coaches to try to reduce your schedule.

A Few Other Reminders

Finally, get out there on the court and have fun working on your skills and leading your team to victory. With a little forethought and some common sense and etiquette, you can keep things safe and stay injury-free and in the game. Next thing you know, that'll be you hitting the shot at the buzzer to win the Final Four or the NBA championship.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: January 2014

Note: All information on TeensHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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