Playing basketball — safely — at any age

with advice from Matthew Caster, PT, DPT
and Mark Salandra, CSCS

Playing basketball — safely — at any age

As temperatures cool, basketball practice is starting across the country. From youth leagues to pick-up games at the gym, basketball is a popular sport with boys and girls, men and women, young and old. With the right precautions, it can be one of the safer sports for athletes of any age.

First, the bad news for players: A 2005 study found that basketball injuries topped the list of sports-related injuries that sent players to the emergency room. These injuries can range from ankle sprains and facial cuts to jammed fingers and knee injuries. Here are a few ways to reduce such injuries:

  • Before you compete in any sport, have a physical examination.Before you compete, have a physical examination. As we mentioned in our post on youth sports safety in May, pre-participation examinations or physicals should be completed annually, and specific sports testing should be completed to determine whether it is safe to participate in your chosen sport.

  • Be aware of concussions. Concussions have been in the news a great deal in the past year, and for good reason; multiple concussions in youth sports — even minor ones — can lead to major memory problems later on. And even though there is more contact in other team sports, emergency rooms are seeing an increasing number of concussions from basketball as well.

  • Complete cardiac screenings. Even more dangerous than concussions is cardiac arrest — it is the number one killer of children on the field or court. Such deaths can often be prevented by two things: screenings for heart disease before starting a sport, and automatic external defibrillators, or AEDs, on site at sports activities, which when used properly can improve the survival rate of cardiac events by up to 60%. Of course this goes for adults as well.

  • Test your equipment. According to Matthew Caster, a physical therapist at Allegheny Chesapeake Physical Therapy (a Physiquality network member with 10 locations in Pennsylvania), some injuries can be avoided just by using proper equipment and safety precautions. This can include checking the floorboards for gaps and making sure basketball hoops are secure, as well as keeping the floors dry during practice and games to avoid slips. Matthew also says that supportive basketball shoes are a must.

Now for the good news. The founder of (one of Physiquality’s partner programs), Mark Salandra, points to a study of NCAA athletes published in 2007 that ranked basketball as having the second-lowest incidence of injury across the 15 sports studied. Even better, out of all of the basketball injuries for both men’s and women’s teams, more than three out of four injuries were minor; less than one in 10 caused the player to miss more than 21 days of play.

Most basketball injuries are minor, like ankle sprains and jammed fingers.The majority of basketball-related injuries seen by Matthew in the clinic are ankle sprains, usually due to awkward jumping and landing. “Other lower-body injuries are relatively common,” he says, including patellofemoral pain, ligamentous injuries, stress fractures, bone bruises and muscle strains.

Because many of these injuries can be linked to the explosive nature of basketball and the associated stresses placed on the lower body, Matthew and Mark agree that sports-specific training is essential for lower body strength, endurance, coordination, balance and proprioception. Matthew advises, “A typical program should include functional strengthening exercises, plyometric activities (including jump training) and simulated dynamic basketball moves.”

And the number one element to add into your program? Rest. The more rested you are, the better you’ll perform, says Mark. “It is only after the game, when you are resting and replenishing your body with protein and other nutrients, when the body heals and gets stronger. This is why I live by the motto, ‘Train hard, but rest harder,‘” he adds. (For more about how important rest is as a part of your exercise regime, see our blog entry from February.)

Matthew Caster, PT, DPT

Mark Salandra, CSCS

Matthew Caster, PT, DPT, is a staff therapist at the Eastside office of Allegheny Chesapeake Physical Therapy, a Physiquality network member with 10 locations in Pennsylvania. Dr. Caster completed his Doctorate of Physical Therapy at Chatham University in 2008; his physical therapy interests include manual therapy and sports-related injuries.

Mark Salandra, CSCS, is the founder of, one of Physiquality’s partner programs. Salandra educates and trains athletes young and old in strength and conditioning, with the goals of better fitness and lower rates of injury.

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For further information, look through our selection of articles on sports and fitness, in addition to the below links:


Safe Kids Worldwide.

Satlof, Ellen. Keep youth sports safety top of mind: Guidelines from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association. NATA, May 15, 2013.

Pennington, Bill. Hidden threats to young athletes. New York Times, May 11, 2013.

Pre-sports physical can prevent sudden death among athletes. Chicago Tribune, July 27, 2011.

Deardorff, Julie. Rest and recovery: Why athletes need it. Chicago Tribune, April 27, 2011.

Parker-Pope, Tara. In basketball, danger of head trauma. New York Times, September 13, 2010.

Hootman, Jennifer M., Randall Dick and Julie Agel. Epidemiology of collegiate injuries for 15 sports: Summary and recommendations for injury prevention initiatives. Journal of Athletic Training, April-June 2007;42(2):311–319.

Carey, Bjorn. The most dangerous sports in America., June 14, 2006.

The material and information contained on this Web site is for information only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or consultation.

Consult your personal physician before beginning any exercise program or self-treatment.