When most people think about basketball, they think about three-point shots, block shots and dunks. They usually do not consider the injury aspect of the game. According to a National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) study, basketball has the fourth-highest injury rate of any team or individual sport. I believe that injuries have a greater effect on team success in basketball than in any other sport due to the small number of quality players on each team. Most high school basketball teams have 12 to 15 team members. Of that number, no more than seven to nine get regular playing time. At smaller schools, that number may be as low as five. In high school basketball, one to two moderate injuries could ruin the team’s season.
Most high school basketball injuries are minor. The player may miss one day of practice or one game. The NATA study showed that 79.4 percent of boys’ injuries and 76 percent of girls’ injuries are minor. Moderate injuries that cause the athletes to miss eight to 21 days make up 12.4 percent of boys’ injuries and 15.1 percent of girls’ total injuries. The more severe injuries that force players to sit out for more than 21 days are 8.2 percent of boys' and 9 percent of girls’ total injuries. Looking at the statistics, there is a low risk of having more than two moderate to severe injuries per season, but believe me, it happens. After being in athletic training for over 35 years, I have seen teams go injury-free during their seasons, but I have also seen seasons ruined due to significant injuries to key players.
As many athletic trainers will tell you, most basketball injuries involve ankle sprain. The NATA study showed that 38.3 percent of boys’ and 36 percent of girls’ total injuries are to the ankle and or foot. Most people think that knee injuries make up a high percentage, but the study showed that knees are involved in 10.3 percent of boys’ injuries and 13 percent of girls’ injuries. In my experience, most high school knee injuries involves tendinitis and patellofemoral pain, not the dreaded ACL tear that people think.
The situations for these injuries can be divided into three areas. About 35 percent of injuries happen in “loose ball situations” when players are diving from everywhere to tie the ball up. I do not know this percentage for college basketball, but it must be much lower because ball handling and passing skills are much better and there are fewer “loose balls.” The second situation when injuries occur is during regular play (about 30 percent) and the third is during rebounding (about 28 percent). With the latter two, I have seen mostly ankle injuries caused by either stepping on or getting stepped on another player. I have also seen many facial lacerations and eye injuries during rebounding situations.
Even though ankle sprains are the most common basketball injury, the athletic trainer must be prepared for anything. In my 35-plus years in athletic training, I have evaluated and treated almost every kind of injury from head to toe. I have seen concussions, lacerations, sprains, strains, dislocations, asthma attacks, panic attacks and many more injuries and illnesses. So when an athletic trainer is covering basketball, you must be ready for much more than ankle sprains.