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Life in Motion

Staying in the Game: Preventing Common Hand and Wrist Injuries in Basketball

Sports & Exercise

Basketball season is just starting, but already players are sidelined with injuries. Hand and wrist injuries are particularly common in basketball because of the shooting, dribbling, catching, and rebounding that put the hands at risk. Dr. Hervey Kimball, a hand and wrist orthopedic specialist at NEBH, shares information about a few common basketball injuries and how to help prevent them.

Jammed Finger

Cause: Jammed fingers are the most common hand injury in basketball. They occur when the ball hits the tip of the finger instead of the palm when a player goes to catch the basketball. These injuries can range from a sprain of the finger joint ligaments to a dislocated or fractured finger.

Treatment: If there is little swelling and the finger still has a full range of motion, a minor finger jam can be treated by icing the finger and putting it in a splint or buddy taping it to the next finger. However, more serious injuries may require casting or surgery.  If the finger looks deformed or if you can’t move it in any direction, contact your physician, as you might need an x-ray.

Recovery: For a non-serious injury, when the finger has minimal pain, the player can start progressive resistance exercises to help regain hand strength. Some example exercises include making a fist or squeezing a small towel into a ball. For a more serious injury, particularly one that requires surgery, recovery will be longer and you may require physical therapy and long term splint use.

Prevention: Because jammed fingers occur from a traumatic impact, they are difficult to prevent. However, by practicing proper technique for catching the ball, you can make sure you are better prepared to avoid finger jams.

Sprained Wrist

Cause: A sprain is when you pull or tear a ligament, the soft tissue that connects one end of a bone to another. A player could sprain a wrist when the wrist is bent forcefully, for example by falling on an outstretched hand or sharply twisting the wrist in a struggle for a jump ball.

Treatment: The first method to treat a suspected sprain is R.I.C.E.:

  • Rest: Avoid using or putting weight on the injured area.
  • Ice: Ice your injury as soon as possible after you injure it.
  • Compression: Wrap injured area in bandage or compression wrap to support the limb and to reduce swelling.
  • Elevate: Elevate the injured area to help reduce swelling.

Using these immediate first aid measures is believed to relieve pain, limit swelling and protect the injured soft tissue. If you have any type of persistent pain, be sure to see a doctor.

Moderate sprains might need to be immobilized in a sling, while surgical repair for severe injuries will take longer to heal and regain full mobility.

Recovery: After the pain and swelling has decreased, your doctor will recommend when you should begin exercising the injured area to prevent stiffness. You may need to go to physical therapy, and your therapist will work with you and your doctor to determine the length of your treatment program and when you can return to play again.

Prevention: Players can reduce the risk of wrist sprains by working to increase flexibility and strength. Some stretches that will help prevent sprains include:

  • Wrist flexor stretch: With your arm extended, point your fingers up (as if making the “stop” gesture).
    Use your other hand to gently pull your fingers back toward your body.
  • Wrist extensor stretch: With your arm extended, hold your palm face up.
    Use your other hand to pull your fingers down toward your elbow.
  • Squeeze a stress ball as hard as you can without causing pain.
    Hold each exercise for 10-15 seconds; repeat 3 times.

Wrist Fractures

Cause: A fracture is a broken bone. A bone may be completely fractured or partially fractured with direct trauma or overuse stress. In basketball, players may risk fracture of the wrist or hand bones after a fall on an outstretched hand. The scaphoid bone in the wrist is susceptible to fractures in athletes.

Treatment: Often with scaphoid fractures, there is a minimal degree of swelling, and players sometimes suspect they have a sprained wrist. It is important to consult your physician if you hurt your wrist, as a scaphoid fracture requires more intensive treatment. Until you see a doctor, use the R.I.C.E. method described above. You doctor will likely immobilize the injured wrist in a cast or recommend surgery depending on the severity and location of the injury.

Recovery: Fractures typically heal in 6-8 weeks. However, scaphoid fractures are often noted to have longer healing times.Your doctor will inform you how long it will take to recover and when you can begin playing again.

Prevention: In addition to using the strengthening techniques described under the wrist sprain prevention section, you can help prevent wrist fractures by avoiding falling on your hand. 

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