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Rise in volleyball ankle injuries points to large problem-chronic injury in high school athletes

By Richard Hayes, MD, Great Basin Orthopaedics
There are twenty public and ten private high schools in Northern Nevada. The majority of them offer volleyball as a fall team sport for girls with daily practices, weekly games, weekend tournaments and, as I have seen firsthand, endless opportunities for ankle, shoulder, finger and knee injuries.
Not surprisingly, the most common volleyball-related injuries we see at Great Basin Orthopaedics are ankle injuries. Jumping is an inherent part of the sport and the landing is where problems typically arise, specifically landing incorrectly and rolling the ankle, landing on the ball, or on another player.
While these acute injuries are what we are seeing the most right now during the fall high school sports season, overuse injuries are also on the rise. Because volleyball involves repetitive overhead motions, such as spiking and blocking, players are prone to overuse injuries of the shoulder. In addition, volleyball players are particularly susceptible to finger injuries.
According to STOP (Sports Trauma and Overuse Prevention), overuse injuries are more common in sports than acute injuries, but they are subtle and usually occur over time, making them challenging to diagnose and treat.1 Competitive high school athletes who want to complete their season or stay in the game are less likely to report nagging pain or discomfort.
So, how do we keep kids who want to play volleyball off the injured list? Many volleyball injuries can be prevented with common sense and by following proper training:
  • Build strength before the season begins and maintain during season. Time in the gym building stronger legs, shoulders, back and abdomens not only helps players jump higher and hit harder, it is one of the best ways to prevent injury. Be sure that athletes use proper weight lifting and resistance techniques.
  • Protect vulnerable area. Previous injuries are highly susceptible to re-injury. If the athlete has a prior ankle sprain, the ankle should be taped or a brace worn to provide additional support. Inured fingers should also be taped.
  • Warm up like you mean it. Warm muscles won’t tear as easily. Warm joints are less likely to be strained. When athletes take warm up seriously, their bodies reward them.
  • Properly cool down after practice. When practice is done, it is easy to throw on a sweatshirt and dash to the car for dinner, but athletes need to consider cool down and stretching an important part of training – the part that can help them stay in the game all season.
  • Pay attention to pain. The body has a very sophisticated mechanism for warning us of problems – pain. Athletes should be encouraged to pay attention to it and report it to coaches and parents. Persistent or serious pain warrants a visit to the doctor and the athlete should only return to play then the doctor gives the A-OK. 

Dr. Richard Hayes is a Board Certified orthopedic surgeon at Great Basin Orthopaedics. He is Reno’s first fellowship-trained foot and ankle specialist and received training at the prestigious Campbell Clinic in Memphis, Tennessee. Great Basin Orthopaedics has been providing Northern Nevada with exceptional orthopaedic care since 1964.

STOP is a project of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine dedicated to reducing sports injuries in young athletes. The program is supported by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Athletic Trainers' Association, the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine and SAFE Kids USA.