Whether you are playing an organized game or a spur of the moment game with your friends, there are numerous ways to help protect yourself and yes, they take a little time but they don't take near as much time as you will spend in rehab. Exercises, proper coaching, and safety equipment are a few preventative measures you can take. Warming up and stretching properly are two of the most important and most often overlooked preventative measures you can take.
I vividly remember watching as a young Sophomore High School student pursued a loose basketball toward the out of bounds line. I also remember watching in a numb state of disbelief as she attempted to toss the ball back in bounds and even now I cannot recall if the ball went back in or not. The next thing I saw was the momentum of this young player carrying her into the rising wooden bleachers in front of her, or maybe I should say throwing her into them. Immediately she began to cry out in pain, "My knee! My knee!” And then I heard my name: "Lori! Lori!” Those screams seemed to get through to my now fuzzy brain and made it sparking clear, I turned and handed my smallest daughter (not old enough to walk) to the nearest friendly face I knew and sprinted out of the stands, across the court and into the stands on the other side. You see that was my daughter in those stands screaming and crying from a torn ACL in her knee and that was my daughter who was totally unaware of the blood streaming down her back from a gash in the back of her head. That was my daughter that finally drove home the importance of warming up, maybe not at that exact point in time but not long after.
Perhaps warming up would not have saved her the pain she had to endure that night. Or the pain of several re-injuries, or the surgeries or the ending of a possible career in the sport she loved so much. Or maybe warming up would have saved her from that pain. I will never know. But I do know that it probably could have lessened the extent of the injury and I nag (yes I said nag) both my other daughters about warming up.
Injuries are not prejudice, they don't pick and choose who they happen to and if you play basketball you are a target for an injury so it is your responsibility to keep yourself as safe as possible. Common basketball-related injuries include sprains, strains, bruises, fractures, scrapes, dislocation, cuts, dental injuries, torn ligaments and torn tendons. Ankles, knees, wrists and shoulders are subjected to the most stress and so are the most vulnerable. You have to love yourself as much as you love basketball. (Just a side note here: I have a friend who dislocated her hip cheerleading so all you cheerleaders out there need to remember it is vitally important for you also to warm up properly) Let me stress one thing, which will be explained a bit more later on: Warming up is important and you should NOT allow yourself to cool down before stretching because that defeats the purpose. Also, cooling down is just as important or even more so than warming up.
Research in these areas is widely varied in the opinion of whether warming up, stretching and cooling down help to reduce injuries. A recent study of endurance runners was conducted involving just over 300 participants and approximately half of them were shown how to warm up and stretch and cool down correctly, the others were not. After 4 months, the injury rates were found to be identical in both groups. Then again, endurance running is quite unlike playing basketball. In another study of runners done at the University of Hawaii, runners that regularly stretched (You notice I did not say warm up and cool down) were more likely to be injured than the ones who never stretched. This study also showed that stretching after workouts lowered injury risk but stretching before increased injury risk, hence my earlier comment about going straight from warming up to stretching. Stretching must be done when the muscles are warm.
Common sense will tell you that newcomers to a sport will suffer injury quicker than someone who has been playing it for some time. This has to do with several factors including training, strength and coordination which are largely “earned and learned” versus being natural to the person.
About half of all injurues are new problem areas while half are reccurrent problems. If we don’t strengthen those areas that have proved to be prone to injury we risk injuring them again. After all, it was probably weak to start with or the initial injury may not have occurred at all.
In light of all the research, I would say the safest route to take would be warm up, go straight into stretching and when you are done playing, stretch and cool down. Also work on strengthening those problem areas. It is worth the time and effort. It might save you a lot of pain in the long run.
Oh, one more thing: Stay away from the bleachers! See you on the court!