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Increase in Girls' Volleyball Players Ups Risk for Injury

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Woman hitting the heck out of a volleyballMADISON, Wis.— As girls' volleyball spikes in popularity, a new survey reveals that 50 percent of Wisconsin female volleyball players are now playing the sport year-round—an approach that increases their risk of injury.
 
Although more than 380,000 girls play high-school volleyball nationwide, research on it is as rare as an underhand serve.
 
Athletic trainer Tim McGuine, a researcher with the University of Wisconsin Sports Medicine Center, surveyed more than 400 female high-school volleyball players at 18 schools across Wisconsin over the last year. He collected information on the number and type of injuries each athlete suffered, whether or not they used ankle and/or knee braces while playing, and how much time they spent playing the sport in off-season camps and teams.
 
The results confirmed several surprising facts and trends:
  • Fifty percent of players surveyed are playing volleyball year-round, on teams and at camps
  • The most common injury suffered by female volleyball players is an ankle sprain, followed closely by knee sprains and upper leg strains
  • Injuries were most likely to occur near the net while a player was attacking the ball, but most didn't involve a collision with a teammate or opponent
  • More than 30 percent of players reported using an ankle brace, which protects the ankle from injury, but also may distribute pressure and impact to the knees, spine and hips
  • A previous injury, even a mild one, is a strong indicator of future injuries
The latter point hits home for many of the athletes—more than 75 reported having had cumulative injuries. And even though most of those injuries didn't result in extended loss of playing time, they're still concerning.
 
"Oftentimes, if you injure your lower extremities, there's what we call a waterfall effect," says McGuine. "If a volleyball player hurts a knee, she's more likely to hurt an ankle later."
 
But it's the increase in single-sport specialization that most concerns McGuine, who notes that constantly subjecting a young athlete's ankles, knees and spines to the impact of frequent jumps on the hardwood floor can cause problems.
 
"Too many athletes have gotten the message that they can become better volleyball players just by playing more," says McGuine. "But that approach can actually lead to an increase in injuries, when what's more likely needed is an adjustment in technique and some pre-season conditioning."
 
To McGuine, the results of the study emphasize the need to focus on injury-prevention strategies, particularly core-strength and balance-training exercises as well as proper jumping and landing techniques.
 
McGuine's study was funded by the UW Sports Medicine Classic and the Wisconsin Athletic Trainer's Association (WATA). McGuine presented his findings at the WATA meeting in late April.
 

Date Published: 04/30/2009

News tag(s):  sportssportsmed research

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