Dig deep and rise above: Important safety tips for girls’ volleyball athletes
Girls’ volleyball is enjoying a spike in popularity. U.S. Olympic Gold Medalists Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor probably have a lot to do with the increased popularity that has made this year-round sport appealing to many girls.
As a parent, I’m sure you’re happy that the female athlete in your house has found a non-contact team sport that brings physical fitness and the benefits of lessons learned from playing on a team together. But, even though volleyball is classified as a non-contact sport, you might be surprised to learn that recent studies have found that is the eighth most injury-prone sport in the 14- to 20-year age group.
Knowing what some of the most typical injuries are, how they occur and what you can do to help avoid these injuries will help keep your volleyball star in the game.
Volleyball injuries typically are characterized as either cumulative, from overuse, or traumatic.
Over a period of time, the stress that is placed on soft tissue, muscles and joints will result in overuse injuries when girls don’t give themselves a chance to heal at the onset of the problem. What usually is just a small pain or an ache can turn into a big problem if you don’t seek early treatment.
About 80 percent of all volleyball injuries are overuse injuries, so no matter how hard the volleyball player in your house tries to convince you to let her ignore that ache or pain and let her play, now you can tell her there’s a good reason why you’re not going to let her do it.
Where traumatic or acute injuries, including sprains or more serious damage, are concerned, waiting is not a choice. These injuries result from a specific incident and must be treated immediately, and most of them occur from aggressive offensive plays, such as blocking and spiking.
Rotator cuff injuries are pretty common. Since rotator cuff muscles control the rotation of the shoulder, it makes sense because, in this sport, players spend a great deal of time with their hands above their heads. Serving and spiking depend on rotator cuff muscles because they’re the power behind moving the shoulder.
A sharp, sudden pain in the shoulder may be a tendon rupture, while a pain that gradually develops might be due to inflammation. In younger players, tears aren’t very typical, but overuse injuries are very common. At the first sign of a problem, have a medical professional take a look. For overuse pain, the treatment usually involves rest and physical therapy.
Hand injuries are another common injury. Trying to block a spiked ball, setting and digging are all moves that cause the hands and fingers to be at risk. Usually, sprains and strains from overuse occur, but fractures and dislocations, as well as tendon and ligament tears, are a high percentage of injuries in this sport.
If your athlete’s isn’t able to bend an injured finger, it is usually a sign of one of the more serious injuries. The nature of the injury will define the treatment plan. Your doctor may require X-rays and, for many hand injuries, you will be referred to a physical therapist who will devise a treatment plan to heal and strengthen the injured area.
Jumper’s knee (patellar tendinitis) is one of the top overuse volleyball injuries. The kneecap is connected to the tibia (shinbone) by the patella tendon. Jumping puts forceful, repetitive, extreme stress on that tendon, which can cause a partial rupture, inflammation and tissue degeneration.
The symptoms you want to watch for include aching and stiffness after training, pain when you press at the bottom of the patella and pain when jumping. The potential for further damage is great, so the first line of business with these injuries is a visit to the doctor for a proper evaluation.
Expect that you will be sent to a sports-trained physical therapist for rehabilitation and a stretching and strengthening program. If the problem persists, your physical therapist will alert your doctor for follow-up treatment.
Low back pain is another chronic problem that results from muscle or ligament strains. Given how much repetitive stress is placed on the back during a game of volleyball, you can see why.
For strains, rest and physical therapy usually cure the problem. However, if the back pain has other symptoms with it, such as pain that travels down the legs, you could be looking at a disk problem.
Low-back stress fractures are also a risk. Ongoing pain that seems harsher when bending backward often is a sign of fracture. As with the other injuries, the first stop is the doctor’s office. An MRI might be called for to determine exactly what is going on.
Proper training is important to help prevent many of these injuries. Always do a warm-up that includes aerobics and stretching. Strength training is a must for the legs, shoulders and lower back. Ankle support, even if just taping up the ankle, will help prevent injuries such as sprains, and keep jump training on hard surfaces to a minimum. As with any rigorous sport, a proper cool-down after practice is very important.
Volleyball players call their game “love at first spike,” and I just love that enthusiasm and the gutty competitiveness of another favorite volleyball creed: “hustle, hit and never quit.” Here’s one I especially like that never goes out of style: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
If you have a question, give me a call. It may take me a bit to get back to you because I am with patients, but I will get back to you.
Bob Cairo is a licensed physical therapist at Tidewater Physical Therapy He can be reached by calling (302) 537-7260.