Coming in second only to soccer, volleyball has one of the highest athlete participation rates in the world! In fact, it is one of the only team sports that boasts TWO Olympic events as part of its claim to fame, court and beach. With all of the excitement that volleyball brings, there is always the risk of injury. Volleyball injuries can be acute or they can result from overuse exacerbated by repetition, improper technique or type of playing surface.
The most common acute injuries seen in volleyball are those that involve the ankle. Ankle injuries account for almost half of all volleyball related injuries and most commonly occur at the net when one player lands on the other player’s foot. This will often result in a sprain however there is the possibility of fractures and/or severe ligament or tendon damage.
A significant number of volleyball athletes will develop patellar tendonitis or “jumper’s knee”. Volleyball requires repetitive, explosive jumping and the patellar tendon must have the ability to stretch and absorb this force. The tendon can develop small tears over time and eventually result in significant pain. As well, an awkward land from a jump or a pivotal cutting movement can result in damage to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
Spiking, blocking and overhead serving put the volleyball player’s shoulders at risk for injury. An athlete’s arm can move into extreme rotation placing a great deal of strain on the ligaments and tendons. Impingement, rotator cuff muscle damage and shoulder instability/dislocation may result from these extreme positions.
Jammed, dislocated and fractured fingers can occur when an athlete contacts the ball, the net or even another player. If not treated properly, these injuries can result in long term pain or deformity.
Secondary to the amount of repetitive bending and rotation, the low back of a volleyball player becomes vulnerable and the muscles can become strained. As well, the repetitive hyperextension of the low back common during hitting and setting can result in vertebral stress fractures.
Although volleyball is considered a safe sport when compared to contact or collision sports, it is important to address the potential for injuries BEFORE they happen. Prevention of injury is the key.
- Ensure that players are stretched and adequately warmed up prior to play.
A warm up prepares your body for exercise by increasing your heart rate and improving the blood flow to your muscles. The warm up will also bring your body temperature up slowly thereby preparing the muscles to be stretched. After you are warmed up, you should initiate stretching of your muscles which will allow for increased flexibility. Your warm up should include dynamic movements and your stretching may be static or dynamic in nature.
- Maintain fitness levels including cardiovascular fitness, strength training and flexibility
Going from zero to hero often leads to injury. It is important to keep up all aspects of your fitness levels if you plan to play competitive sport. Volleyball requires strength, flexibility, agility, stamina, sharp reaction time and reflexes, balance and a strong cardiovascular system. Training off of the court is just as important as training on it.
- Ensure proper levels of hydration
Adequate hydration will reduce muscle fatigue which results in injury prevention. Sweating results in electrolyte loss, particularly sodium and potassium, and electrolyte depletion can wreak havoc on muscles resulting in cramps, sprains and strains. Hydration before, during and after practice and game play is very important in injury prevention.
- Ensure the use of appropriate equipment including proper footwear, knee pads, and properly fitted braces when required
Proper footwear is important to perform your competitive best. Volleyball shoes support the ankle, foot and legs which take on impact and stress during the game. Heel cushioning absorbs hard landings, midsoles will cushion and absorb the impact of players constantly rising onto the balls of their feet, and light upper materials allow for breathing and prevent overheating. Knee pads absorb forces through the knee cap and the knee joint as well as protect ligaments. High density foam allows for protection but maintains flexibility in the knee joint. The debate over the use of ankle braces in volleyball persists and my recommendation is always to discuss this with your physiotherapist in an effort to determine your best options for injury prevention and/or treatment.
- Focus on technique
Work with those who have the ability to guide you in safe training and proper technique both on and off of the court. Coaches will have the knowledge and credentials to keep you safe and injury free while working towards obtaining your optimal training.
- Maintain a balanced approach to training
It is possible to have too much of something and it is important that as an athlete, you listen to what your body is telling you. Not just the physical aspect of your body, but the mental as well. Watch for signs of both physical and/or mental fatigue as well as overuse as these are common precursors to injury. Rest is physically necessary so muscles are able to repair, rebuild and strengthen.
Injuries can greatly affect the training of a committed athlete. The ultimate goal is to return to the court and return to optimal playing level as quickly as possible. Proper treatment becomes vital. Our physiotherapists will see your athlete acutely and will complete a thorough initial assessment of the injury site and surrounding anatomy. Through this comprehensive exam, the physiotherapist will determine the very best course of action with respect to treatment planning, sport specific re-integration and future injury prevention. Treatment is individualized with the ultimate goal of a safe and prompt return to the court. Let the ABIM therapy team assist you in turning your set back into a comeback!