Netball is one of the most popular non-contact team sports in Australia. Its fast paced and competitive nature makes it a sport that requires quick changes of direction, speed, jumping and throwing. This places a lot of stress on an athlete’s joints which often results in injuries of the knee and ankle. In fact the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) revealed in 2011-2012 4% of all sports related injuries admitted to hospital occurred playing netball of which 60% were related to the knee and lower leg. Therefore this is one sport where injury prevention and adequate rehabilitation play a considerable role in an athlete’s ability to staying healthy and maximising performance on the court. Below I have compiled a list of most common injuries and how they will affect the player.
Excessive running, jumping and changes in speed and direction make ankles sprains the most common injury in netball. Ankle sprains usually occur either immediately upon landing or during rapid changes of direction where stability is lost and the foot ‘rolls’ under the bulk of the ankle. This action significantly stretches the ligaments which are strong bands of connective tissue used to reinforce the joint and hold bones securely together. Pain, swelling and some bruising are all common signs of such an injury. The RICE method (Rest, Ice Compression, Elevation) should be used immediately following injury shortly followed by an early assessment by a physiotherapist whom will prescribe a graduated stretch and strengthening program. This regime aims to reduce the influence of pain and movement whilst promoting flexibility and movement. It is important for ankle sprains to be rehabilitated appropriately to prevent joint instability and weakness. This in turn places players 4.9x more likely of re-injuring the joint.
Patellar Tendionpathy or “Jumpers Knee”
Jumper’s knee – also known as patella tendinitis or patella tendinopathy is known for inflammation or injury to the patella tendon ( a band of connect tissue that join the patella to the tibia). This condition is caused by frequent jumping, landing and changes in direction. Damage to the patella tendon causes pain and weakness in the knee. This specific injury is most common amongst defensive players where jumping for rebounds and to defend each shot at goal is vital for success. If you notice your experience some knee pain contact your physiotherapist who can assess, diagnose, tape and incorporate stretching and strengthening routine to minimise the impact knee pain has on your game.
The inherent high impact nature, frequent pivoting motions and playing surface of netball the knee joint is already subject to a significant amount of stress. The ACL is one of four major ligaments that is primarily responsible for preventing too much forward movement of the shin bone and rotation of the lower leg. A majority of ACL injuries occur due to rapid deceleration combined with an incorrect landing technique. A forceful twisting of the knee once the foot is planted can cause anything from slight fraying of the ACL fibres to a complete rupture accompanied by other structural damage. Significant swelling and pain are all common signs of an ACL injury athletes may report they felt or heard a ‘pop’ sound before their knee gives way from underneath them. Many athletes with an ACL tear begin to feel better once swelling has subsided however this stage is where the knee joint becomes unstable and weak. Not all ACL injuries require surgery the best way to avoid surgery is to visit your physiotherapist who can diagnose your injury and tailor a comprehensive, sport specific rehabilitation program.
Hand and Finger Injuries
Finger Injuries make up a significant proportion of injuries sustained by netball players. Every player is familiar with the feeling of being struck on the tip of the finger by a bullet pass or intercept that leaves the finger feeling like its about to fall off. Following such a injury it is important to continue making an open palm and close fist movement to prevent the pooling of swelling and bruising in the joint. These are factors that contribute to joint stiffness following the injury. To minimise this stiffness the RICER method should also be applied as soon as possible. If however, there is an obvious deformity or the pain is accompanied with pins and needles or numbness, cease playing immediately and make an appointment to see your physiotherapist who can assess, tape and strengthen to protect against further injury.
Written by Ashleigh Mills, Physiotherapist