Basketball coaches, would it surprise you to learn that ankle injuries are the most common injuries that basketball players can suffer from?
I expect many coaches would say, probably not.
Ankle injuries affect players at every level.
How serious are ankle injuries in basketball?
In the NBA, ankles account for 14.7% of all injuries in an average year, with 1,800 game-related incidents — the highest for any body part. Overall, ankle injuries comprise 21.9% of all basketball related injuries in the average year, according the research on this topic.
Rebounding is the most common cause of ankle injury, responsible for 34.4% of all ankle injuries, followed by general play, defending, and shooting. Athletes suffer injury to their ankles anywhere from 3.8 to 5.2 times for every 1,000 competitive games and training exercises.
Not only that, but research and experience of the sport shows that they are “the most common injury sustained while playing basketball, but are also among the most severe and difficult to recover from.”
An Australian study of basketball players found that ankle injuries are the reason that 53.7% of playing time is missed.
Athletes often blame the shoes they’re wearing. However, as every coach, fitness professional, and performance specialist knows, it’s not as simple as that. Basketball players need support to work on a number of areas that will help them run faster, jump higher, and reduce the risk of ankle injuries.
Here are five ways coaches can help players improve performance without injuring their ankles.
5 Ways Basketball Players can Improve Performance and Reduce Ankle Injuries
#1: Improve Mobility
Ankles are hinged, synovial joints that operate through dorsi and plantar flexion, and through inversion and eversion.
In other words, ankles can move almost 360, they’re very flexible, and they do a lot of heavy lifting: ankles literally are crucial to holding humans upright, and giving us enormous freedom and flexibility of movement. The ankle is a mobile joint, whereas the foot provides stability.
One of the reasons basketball players sprain ankles is the introduction of stability. Ankles are meant to be mobile. Attempting to introduce or apply stabilizing factors causes dysfunction, especially when athletes are moving at speed. This dysfunction between the ankle, foot, and knee forces other joints to work overtime to compensate. Unfortunately, ankle injuries and sprains are often the result.
Coaches need to help athletes to maximize mobility to reduce injury, rather than attempt to introduce stability.
#2: High Top Shoes vs. Low Top
Braces and wraps around the feet help reduce ankle-related injuries. So does the right footwear.
At the professional level, footwear should be tailored to the individual needs of athletes. Even when there’s a brand partnership, players are unlikely to be wearing an off-the-shelf version of trainers a brand wants them to advertise.
One debate in basketball is high top vs. low top shoes. Studies have found that high tops are best for players who don’t need to move as fast, nor move as far around the court, such as post players. High tops are also ideal for those with a history of ankle injuries. Whereas, low tops are best for players who do move around more often and at faster speeds, e.g. guards.
#3: Giving The Foot More Stability
Coaches need to help players improve the stability of their feet. Braces and wraps are useful. As are various exercises, such as the following:
- Flexion: Curling the toes with the foot flat)/extension, and raising the heel while keeping toes planted
- Abduction/adduction: Splaying the toes outward and inward
#4: Enhancing Ankle Mobility
Exercises are extremely useful for enhancing ankle mobility. After all, the ankle is meant to be mobile, so working on this consistently will give basketball players an advantage in games. The following exercises are useful for improving ankle mobility:
- Plantar flexion: Pointing the toes down
- Dorsiflexion: Pulling the toes toward the shin
- Front Foot Elevated Split Squat: Drive the front knee forward past the toe
- RFESS: Keep back foot plantar-flexed, drive up
- Eversion/inversion: Move the foot side to side
- Pronation: Dorsiflex and evert at the same time
- Supination: Plantar flex and invert
- Circumduction: Move your foot in a circular motion
- Manual manipulations: Keep forefoot stable, and manipulate the heel side to side
#5: Improving Player Proprioception
Proprioception is an awareness of where your limbs are, not just how fast they’re moving or how much force they’re producing. Coaches can help players improve proprioception through certain exercises, such as PNF stretches, patterns, and balance exercises.
Key Takeaways: 5 Ways Basketball Players Can Improve Performance
Ankle injuries are a serious problem for basketball players. They’re the most common type of injury, and the most difficult to recover from. Ankle injuries can limit or finish careers, at every level, and they’re responsible for over 50% of missed game and training time.
Coaches can take 5 actions to improve the performance of their players and reduce the risk of ankle injuries.
- Improve Mobility
- High Top Shoes vs. Low Top
- Giving The Foot More Stability
- Enhancing Ankle Mobility
- Improving Player Proprioception
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