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Sports Medicine

As girl's 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 related is as nonexistent 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 from across Wisconsin during 2008 and 2009, collecting 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:

  • 50 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, with most involving 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 experiencing cumulative injuries.


"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."


McGuine points to an athlete in the study who suffered wrist sprains that were traceable to her style of serve. Once she adjusted her technique, the injury resolved.


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 April 2009.