Volleyball is the second most popular sport worldwide. Unfortunately, as with any sport, there are a variety of injuries, ranging from less serious, but more common ankle sprains to the rare but dreaded ACL tear. Luckily, many of the injuries can be prevented through practicing proper exercise, volleyball technique and preparation.
Best Ways to Prevent Volleyball Injuries
“The best way to prevent injuries is to learn the proper technique for serving/blocking/setting to put the joints in the best position,” said Crystal McCallum, DPT, a former volleyball player and a physical therapist who works with sports medicine injuries at Franciscan Health Indianapolis.
A strong offseason/preseason workout that focuses on the mechanics of volleyball and the loads being placed on the body is the key to making sure players avoid injury.
“If we aren't strong in those patterns, it sets us up for overuse or other injuries,” said athletic trainer Corina Riggins, ATC, who works at Franciscan Health Lafayette East.
Cross-Training for Overuse Injury Prevention
Riggins believes cross-training is very important for any young athlete to ensure that all muscle groups get the work they need to help protect the body and prevent overuse injury.
“Sometimes we get too sport-specific and don't allow athletes to use other muscle groups and be better balanced,” she said. “A good, year-round strengthening/flexibility program that is not only sport specific, but also incorporates cross-training, can be very beneficial for young athletes.”
Preventive screening by an athletic trainer or physical therapist may point out any deficiencies in strength or flexibility and get a specific exercise program for a volleyball player’s individual needs, McCallum said.
Minimizing Injuries During Play
“Strengthening can help prevent injuries so the body is ready for the impact and stress during practices/games,” McCallum said. “Warm up by doing a few minutes up to 5 to 10 minutes of cardio activity such as jogging, or biking followed by a dynamic (movement, not static holding) stretching routine into the movements they will be using during games/practices. For cool down, a player can stretch any muscles that get tight during the game/practice with static or dynamic stretching.”
Other tips to avoid injury during volleyball games include:
- Get enough rest. Eight to 10 hours of sleep is recommended.
- Make sure to maintain a balanced diet and drink plenty of water.
- Dynamically stretch and warm up before practice or a game and make sure to properly cool down after.
- Practice strengthening your cardiovascular fitness and core strength but try to minimize the amount of jump training on hard surfaces.
- Treat injuries immediately and consult a healthcare professional before heading back out on the volleyball court.
Common Volleyball Injuries
Most injuries during volleyball are acute, such as dislocations or strains, or stemming from overuse of certain muscle groups. Ankles, shoulders, fingers, back and knees are areas most affected.
Ankle sprains are the most common injury a volleyball player could sustain over the course of his or her career. Typically, ankle sprains occur at the net when an opposing player lands on another’s foot, but they also can occur just by landing at a bad angle. Luckily, most ankle sprains are not serious injuries. Some simple physical therapy or at-home rehabilitation exercising could lead to a full recovery in just a few weeks.
However, there are instances where an ankle sprain has caused a subtle fracture or cartilage injury. To lessen the chance of an ankle injury, make sure to wear shoes that provide strong ankle and arch support and offer god shock absorption. For added stability, use an ankle support to keep your foot from rolling on its side. If severe pain continues after several weeks, players should schedule a visit with their doctor for further treatment.
Finger injuries are common for volleyball players. Joint sprains, dislocation, fractures, and tendon and ligament tears can all occur from a variety of activities ranging from contact with the ball to contact with other players. Injured fingers should be treated as soon as possible especially if there’s swelling or discoloration or you are unable to move your finger.
Shoulder injuries typically occur due to overuse of the rotator cuff. While tearing is rare in young volleyball athletes, it is possible. When these muscles and ligaments are overworked, you may feel as if the shoulder is unstable. You shoulder will start to develop pain if the rotator cuff and labrum gets pinned against structures inside the shoulder due to excessive shoulder movement. Exercise, proper technique and stretching should significantly lessen any risk of damage to your shoulder. You should always make sure to respond and react appropriately to your body’s pain signals and consult your athletic trainer if significant pain persists.
Lower back strain is the most common back injury from volleyball although usually, the pain dissipates after some rest and physical therapy. However, the repetitive hyperextension of the lower back during hitting and setting the ball can also place stress on the lower back bones. This can lead to spondylolysis, which is stress fractures of the vertebrae in the spine.
If the lower back pain is accompanied by pain that radiates down the legs and causes numbness or weakness in the foot or ankle, the issue may be a herniated disk. An MRI may be helpful in evaluating the presence of a disc herniation. In most cases, volleyball players can return to play once the pain, numbness, and weakness resolves.
Patellar tendinitis, also known as “jumper’s knee,” results from stress caused to the tendon connecting the kneecap to the tibia. Patellar tendon straps are helpful in reducing stress to the patellar tendon and are often the first line of treatment along with physical therapy treatment consisting stretching and strengthening the knee. Additionally, specific attention to landing after jumping during rehabilitation is also helpful. Occasionally, patellar tendinitis persists and will end up requiring surgery to alleviate the damage.
Although not as common as patellar tendinitis, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the most serious injuries a volleyball player could sustain and typically occurs when an athlete comes down from a jump awkwardly. Usually ACL tears are associated with a "pop" and immediate knee swelling. Because ACL tears do not heal, those wishing to return to sports activities are encouraged to have the ACL surgically reconstructed. Recovery time could be anywhere between six and nine months.
When Should You Worry About A Potential Injury?
“A sign to slow down is if they are sore more than 24-48 hours, which is normal for muscle soreness after an increased or new workout,” McCallum said. “An ache isn't normal if it is sharp, keeps them awake at night or in general any soreness lasting longer than 1-2 weeks. That should be checked by a doctor or physical therapist to get advice and treatment if needed.”
Get Back in the Game
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Get more volleyball injury prevention tips from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
By Vivek Bhamidipati