Common Volleyball Injuries & Glossary

Injury is an inevitable part of playing volleyball. While the sport is fairly safe compared to most contact sports, volleyball athletes are not immune to serious injury. There are two general kinds of volleyball injuries; what we call traumatic or impact injuries sustained from a fall, blow, or abrupt movement, and overuse volleyball injuries from repeated stress to a muscle group, joints, or a part of the body. What follows is a glossary of some of the more common volleyball injuries. We often respond to serious impact injury. But subtle pain is a symptom that should not be ignored. Over time, even minor aches and pains can worsen until what results is a long-term injury that may keep you from reaching your athletic goals.

Common volleyball injuries and their causes

Common volleyball injuries and their causes

Sports medicine literature speaks of two kinds of injuries, 'cumulative' overuse, and 'acute' traumatic injuries caused by a sudden impact. Overuse volleyball injuries are the outcome of gradual degeneration to joints, ligaments, and muscles caused by repeated overuse and stress, not giving injuries enough time to heal, or ignoring pain. Such injuries often begin with subtle symptoms that worsen over time. Gone untreated, minor aches and pains can become debilitating problems. Traumatic injuries are ones that happen on sudden impact. The three most common injuries to volleyball players involve the ankle, knee, and shoulder. Other less common volleyball injuries include injuries to the hands from blocking the ball, and to the back from jumping up and bending backwards.

Volleyball ankle injuries

By far, the most common impact injury to volleyball players are ankle sprains, accounting for half of all volleyball-related injuries (Reeser). Lateral sprains happen from landing incorrectly or on another person's foot, tearing the ligaments on the outside of the ankle. Once injured, the ankle is likely to be injured again.

Volleyball knee injuries

The second most common injury to volleyball players caused by repeated pressure to the knee is "jumper's knee", or 'patellar tendinopathy'. Damage to the tendons just below the kneecap or patella are commonplace to sports where quickly turning, jumping, and changing direction are often done. Repeated pressure on the knee causes inflammation and degeneration of the knee tissue, leading to pain and stiffness.

Volleyball shoulder injuries

Volleyball shoulder injuries make up the third most common injury to volleyball players. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, two million people in the United States visited their doctors in 2008 due to injuries of the rotator cuff, or the muscles that help rotate the shoulders (May, 2011). Such an injury is common to "overhead" sports where, during play, an arm is extended over the head much of the time. Long-term overuse of the shoulder from spiking the ball for instance, can in some cases weaken the muscles and cause shoulder dislocation. Serious volleyball players are said to perform an estimated 40,000 spikes per season (Plawinski, 2008).

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Volleyball injury prevention

Volleyball injury prevention

Common overuse or impact volleyball injuries can generally be avoided with proper weight training and conditioning. Warm-ups before every practice, ample rest and recovery from sports injuries, and honing your volleyball techniques are great ways to prevent common volleyball injuries. Wearing good supportive volleyball shoes that provide excellent traction can help prevent accidents that may lead to sprains, and other traumatic injuries.

To prevent lower back problems, athletes should avoid putting too much stress on the spine caused by overextending and over-flexing the spine. Players recovering from back injury should consult their sports medicine doctor for certain stretching and weight training techniques to minimize lower back pain.

To reduce the risk of volleyball injury, the International Federation of Volleyball (FIVB) recommends:

While volleyball is generally safe and provides a fun and excellent way to stay healthy, even the most physically fit athletes are not immune to some of these more common injuries. Be aware of the hazards, practice these tips along with your volleyball drills, and you'll be jumping for years to come rather than upping your chances for serious consequences later in life.

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Volleyball Injury Glossary

Achilles tendinitis - Inflammation of the Achilles tendon - the cord that runs from your calf muscles to your the heel - caused by stress or over-activity on your feet. A common injury for runners and other athletes that spend a lot of time on their feet.

Achilles tendon rupture - Tearing of the 'Achilles tendon'.

Ankle sprain - Torn ankle ligaments caused by a sudden rolling or twisting of the ankle. By far, one of the most common injuries to volleyball athletes.

Arch pain - Inflammation of the soft, fleshy tissue in the middle of the sole of the foot often caused by poor support, too much wear, or stress.

Athlete's foot - Medically known as 'tinea pedis', a fungus formed between the toes under moist, warm conditions.

Back strain - a muscle or tendon in the back is pulled or strained beyond its normal range. Often caused by improper lifting, trying to lift too much weight, or being overweight.

Blister - A painful, liquid-filled bubble formed on the surface of the skin caused by friction to the skin.

Bursitis - Inflammation of the bursa, or liquid-filled cushions in between the tendons, joints, muscles, and bones of the ankles, knees, elbows, shoulders, and other body parts.

Chondromalacia - Damaged cartilage under the kneecap.

Frozen shoulder - Known medically as 'adhesive capsulitis', a painful condition in which the shoulder joint capsule becomes swollen, limiting the mobility of the shoulder.

Glenohumeral arthritis - Medical term for shoulder arthritis caused by damaged cartilage in the shoulder joints.

Hamstring pull or tear - Injury to the hamstring, or tendons in the back of the knee, due to sudden use or stretching beyond its normal range.

Herniated disks - A very painful condition in which spine vertebrae become compressed, forcing the small circular cushions between the vertebrae to bulge or rupture from their normal position.

Iliotibial band syndrome - The band or cord extending from the thigh muscles on the outside of the thigh to the top of the tibia bone, just below the knee, becomes stressed from overuse. Common to long-distance runners and court athletes.

Impingement syndrome - Shoulder pain caused by muscles and tendons of the shoulder joint becoming compressed and swollen, limiting the shoulder's range of movement. Not to be confused with frozen shoulder, which involves inflammation of the shoulder joint capsule.

Jumpers knee - An overuse injury to the knee characterized by inflammation of the patellar tendons or ligaments just below the kneecap.

Low back pain - Discomfort in the lower spine area caused by stress and strain to the muscles, discs, and ligaments in the back.

Meniscus injuries - A tear to the 'c'-shaped cartilage on either side of the knee joint. Common to athletes whose upper bodies are often forced to twist while the feet are stationary.

Muscle cramps - Painful and often involuntary contractions or spasms to a muscle in the body most often occurring in the hamstrings, abdominal muscles, back, and calves, due to fatigue and dehydration.

Neck sprain - A traumatic neck injury caused by a sudden movement or impact that tears the connective ligaments in the neck's spinal column.

Osteoarthritis of the knee - Degeneration of the cartilage in the knee joint between the tibia bone and the femur.

Over-training syndrome - Otherwise known as "burnout", unnatural physical and mental fatigue due to not enough rest between high intensity workouts.

Patella tendinitis - Also known as "jumpers knee", a painful condition caused by overuse of the knee from repeated jumping, characterized by inflammation of connecting tissues and tendons from the patella just below the knee cap to the tibia bone.

Patellofemoral pain syndrome - A common sports-related injury of the knee resulting from the back of the kneecap rubbing against the thigh bone.

Piriformis syndrome - The piriformis muscle, or pear-shaped muscle located inside the gluteal area, presses against the sciatic nerve that extends from the spinal column to the feet, causing pain to radiate from the hip down through the leg.

Plantar fasciitis - Inflammation of the connective tissue in the sole of the foot.

Rotator cuff tendinitis - Inflammation of the tendons in the shoulder joints near the arm socket. Common to athletes who tend to overwork their upper body and shoulders.

Shin splints - Technically called 'tibial stress syndrome'; pain in the shins caused by running on hard surfaces. Common to runners and court athletes.

Shoulder dislocation - Common sports injury in which the ball of the 'humerus', or upper arm bone that runs from the shoulder to the elbow, is displaced from the shoulder socket by a sharp impact or blow.

Shoulder separation - Often confused with shoulder dislocation, this is the tearing of the ligaments of the 'AC joint' where the collarbone meets the shoulder.

Sprain - A ligament is pulled or stretched beyond its normal range.

Strain - A muscle or tendon is pulled or stretched beyond its normal range.

Stress fracture injury - A tiny crack in the metatarsal bones of the foot due to muscles tiring and no longer able to absorb shock.

Supra-scapular neuropathy - Nerve damage in the base of the neck. Common to athletes that routinely perform overhead movements.

Tendon rupture - Injury to the Achilles tendon, the cord running from the calf muscles to the heel.

Tennis elbow - Pain caused by tearing of the tendons in the elbow from repeated use of the forearm.

Torn knee cartilage - Also known as 'meniscus of the knee'; a common sports injury characterized by torn cartilage on either side of the knee joint, or meniscus, caused by upper body twisting while feet are planted on the ground.

Torn rotator cuff - Shoulder pain from stress to the muscles and tendons that support the arm at the shoulder joint.

Wrist tendinitis - Wrist pain caused by damaged connective tissue in the wrist.

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