Volleyball’s repetitive jumping, diving, and explosive overhead movements create ideal conditions for injury. While most acute injuries are difficult to avoid, they can be managed and treated to get back on the court quickly. Overuse injuries, on the other hand, come from fatigue and strain with chronic adverse conditions. Regardless of how injuries arise, they can sideline even the best volleyball player. To help you stay on the court, we’ve put together the most common volleyball injuries and how to treat them.
Any sport that requires jumping and cutting runs a high risk of ankle sprains. Every volleyball player is bound to land incorrectly at some point in their career, and one of those times you might overstretch the ligaments.
Once an ankle sprain occurs, immediately protect and rest it. Keep off your feet and get medical attention. Your body’s natural pain defense system will make the ankle sensitive to touch and movement. It’s trying to keep you from making it worse as you heal by rushing fluids and swelling to the area.
As the swelling starts to increase, ice, compression, and elevation help remove that inflammation and manage pain. Modern science has brought us compression wraps to both remove the fluid and stabilize the joint. Part of returning from injury is re-training the body to go through ranges of motion that it now fears. Wrapping your ankle in compression can help you to get back to normal, pain-free motion.
Rotator Cuff Tendonitis
The rotator cuff muscles are vital to keeping your shoulder stable. As one of the most mobile joints in the body, the shoulder sacrifices some stability as it goes through natural ranges of motion. This might be great for the speed of your serve, but an imbalance could be problematic over time. If one or more of the rotator cuff muscles is weak, your stability suffers and repetitive strain occurs during practice and games.
The first step in treatment comes prior to injury - maintaining necessary strength and stability. Spiking, digging, and blocking ask athletes to swiftly move their arm in a compromised position. Repeated anterior tilt of the scapula while overhead suffocates the rotator cuff ligaments and muscles. Pain will ensue as inflammation grows over time, and natural range of motion will decrease as a preventive measure. Determined to excel in their sport, most athletes continue to force ranges of motion on their already sensitive shoulders, compounding the problem until pain is almost constant.
Physical therapists can test for passive range of motion and pre-movement positioning to assess injury risk. Corrective strengthening exercises include t-spine mobility with overhead reaches, side-lying arm bars, and Turkish Get-Ups. These challenge the shoulder to reset proper movement while locking the shoulder in to it’s capsule, all the while activating the rotator cuff.
Again, compression sleeves can help add external stability to a joint. While you’re going through regular strengthening, outside support can help lock that shoulder in position and prevent excess oscillation.
Also known as “jumper’s knee”, patellar tendonitis comes from inflammation of the tendon that connects your knee cap to your shin. It’s called jumper’s knee for a reason - repeated extension and impact from landing forces strains that connective tissue. Rehabilitation and corrective exercises include improving eccentric quadriceps contraction in the attempt to redistribute some of the force away from the tendon.
Once diagnosed with patellar tendonitis, athletes need to perform similar management strategies as tendonitis in the shoulder. Ice, rest, and compression are immediate steps in acute injury management. After swelling has started to go down, light activity can resume, yet the areas still needs to be stabilized. Fortunately, medical-grade compression offers solutions at both of these junctures. By unloading stress on the tendon specifically and holding the knee in a safe position, volleyball players can benefit from knee supports post-injury.
Prevention before Injury
In order to succeed in volleyball, athletes are always going to be put in positions of stress at the ankle, knee, and shoulder. There’s no substitute for proper form, coaching, and strength training in the prevention of injury. Training your body to move with strength through larger ranges of motion will resist perturbation to the point of strain or sprain. Having fluid movement through all types of patterns critically provides the nervous system feedback to maximize motor control and minimize injury.
Connect with a physical therapist or well-versed strength coach to prime yourself for success. If injury does strike, whether acute or chronic, compression sleeves can be priceless tools to getting back to full health.