As the team doctor for several local high school sports teams I want to ensure that everyone – parents, coaches and players – keeps kids’ health and safety foremost in their minds. Basketball is the most common team sport for both girls and boys in the United States and while sports activity clearly has health and fitness benefits, most sports have inherent injury risks and the highest rates of injury occur in sports – such as basketball – that involve contact and collisions as well as repetitive motions.
According to a study of data in the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 4 million basketball-related injuries among children ages 5-19 required emergency room visits over the 11-year period 1997-2007. The lower extremities had the highest rate of injury followed by the upper extremities. The physical demands of basketball generate large numbers of knee and ankle sprains, but shoulder problems arising from both overuse and trauma represent frequent basketball injuries as well.
Shoulder pain and damage don’t just take athletes out of play. They can have long-lasting effects that make future injury more likely. That’s why it’s important that treatment focuses on full recovery rather than swift return to play, and that all possible precautions be taken to prevent injury. Parents and coaches must realize that winning isn’t everything and the health and safety of the child comes first.
Recommendations for keeping young shoulders injury free:
• Fitness: Maintain good fitness levels all year round. Preseason training should allow time for general conditioning and sport-specific conditioning. Also important are proper warm-up and cool-down exercises. One of the best ways to keep shoulders in top condition is to lift weights and incorporate basketball-specific exercises for strengthening shoulders into the weight training routine.
• Technique: Work with coaches and trainers to learn and practice safe techniques for basketball skills. One of the best ways to avoid shoulder injury is to learn the proper way to maneuver on the court, with and without the ball. Basketball is a contact sport, so learning how to give and take a hit is very important for shoulder health. This can be learned most effectively from a coach who understands the game and can show players how to deal with the contact that is inevitable.
• Environment: The playing area must be clean and clear of anything that might cause a fall; goalposts should be padded.
• Physical exam: A pre-participation physical evaluation should be conducted about four to six weeks before the beginning of the season to make sure the young athlete is ready to play.
Scott M. Levin, M.D., F.A.A.O.S., is a board certified orthopaedic surgeon with Somers Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine Group. www.somersortho.com.