Athletic Edge - Sports Specific Injuries - Volleyball Injuries and Prevention
Each year, more than 400,000 high school students — including more than
300,000 girls — participate in interscholastic volleyball. As
participation has increased over the past two decades, the number of
volleyball-related injuries has risen as well. While volleyball injuries
rank lowest for all major sports, volleyball players are at risk for
both traumatic and overuse injuries.
What types of injuries are most common in volleyball?
Because volleyball involves repetitive overhead
motions, such as spiking and blocking, players are prone to overuse
injuries of the shoulder. In addition, volleyball players are
particularly susceptible to finger injuries.
How are volleyball injuries treated?
Rotator Cuff Tendinitis
During serving and spiking, the rotator cuff muscles are important in
generating the necessary power to move the shoulder. While rarely
completely torn in young players, these muscles can get irritated or
fatigued with overuse. Often, rest, physical therapy and athletic
training services may be enough to resolve pain. If pain persists
despite these measures, talk to your physician about further treatment.
Fingers are vulnerable to injury during volleyball activities, such
as blocking, setting, and digging. Most injuries occur when the ball
forcefully strikes the fingertip. Common finger injuries include
fractures, dislocations, and tendon and ligament tears. If you are
unable to bend the finger, consultation with your sports medicine
professional or athletic trainer is important. Treatment can vary
significantly depending on the injury.
Ankle injuries are the most common injury to volleyball players and
responsible for the most lost playing time. Usually injuries can be
treated nonoperatively with bracing and physical therapy. Occasionally,
though, ankle sprains can be associated with subtle fractures or
cartilage injuries. Continued pain after several weeks should prompt
further evaluation, including X-rays and/or MRIs.
Return to play is usually allowed once players have no pain and are
able to support their body weight while standing on the toes of the
affected limb. Surgery is reserved for those with recurrent ankle
sprains that have not responded to conservative measures or those with
specific associated fractures.
Patellar tendinitis is inflammation of the tendon that connects the
kneecap to the tibia (or shin bone). Patellar tendinitis is common in
any athlete subjected to repetitive, forceful jumping activities, such
as spiking and blocking.
Patellar tendon straps are helpful in unloading the stress to the
patellar tendon and are often the first line of treatment. Physical
therapy and athletic training services focused on stretching and
strengthening are also helpful. Occasionally, patellar tendinitis
persists despite therapy and surgery is required.
Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Injury
Like ankle sprains, most ACL injuries in volleyball players occur
when a player lands awkwardly after jumping. Usually ACL tears are
associated with a "pop" and immediate knee swelling. Examination by a
physician and MRI are often used to confirm the ACL injury. Because ACL
tears do not heal, those wishing to return to sports activities are
encouraged to have the ACL reconstructed. Recovery time is usually at
least six to nine months.
The low back is a common source of chronic pain among volleyball
players. The cause of most low-back pain is related to muscle or
ligament strain. The pain usually resolves with rest, physical therapy
and athletic training services.
If low-back pain is accompanied by pain that radiates down the legs
and numbness or weakness in the foot or ankle, the culprit may be a
herniated disk. In cases of radiating pain, 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
How can injury be prevented?
Volleyball injury prevention can be achieved by following proper training guidelines and these tips:
Use proper strength training techniques for the lower back,
shoulders, and legs by working with an athletic trainer or other sports
Use an external ankle support, such as an ankle brace or taping, to prevent the ankle from rolling over
Minimize the amount of jump training on hard surfaces
Warm up muscles with stretching and light aerobic exercises
Be sure to properly cool down after practice
If you are having significant pain, visit your doctor and follow instructions for treatment
Speak with a sports medicine professional or athletic trainer if you have any concerns about injuries or prevention strategies
The athlete should return to play only when clearance is granted by a health care professional
Robert Gallo, MD
540 Bryant Street, Palo Alto, California 94301 | (650) 815-6552
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