Youth Basketball: Common Injuries

UW Health's Sports Medicine fitness trainers explain common basketball injuries among youth players.

Youth sports continue to grow in the United States with an estimated 21.5 million kids between ages 6 and 17 playing competitive youth sports in America. That's approximately 70 percent of the youth population.


Soccer often starts as one of the earliest entry points in to team sports for both boys and girls, but by age nine, basketball becomes the most popular sport.


With the popularity of sports, and so many kids playing, it makes sense that sports participation is the most common cause of injuries in kids. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 2.7 million kids under age 20 were treated for sports injuries between 2001 and 2009.


In basketball, there are four common injuries that players experience:

  • Sever's disease (heel pain)
  • Ankle sprains
  • ACL tears
  • Concussions

Sever's Disease (Heel Pain)


Sever's disease is medically known as calcaneal apophysitis, which means inflammation of the growth plate of the heel bone. The most common symptom is heel pain provoked by running and jumping.


Acute or immediate treatment for Sever's Disease includes rest and ice. Athletes should be held from competition and practice if the run or jump with a limp, or compensate their movement with other activities.


Long term treatment and prevention includes improving calf flexibility, balance, hip strength and landing mechanics. Once the growth plate fuses, this is no longer a site of potential pain.


Ankle Sprains - Lateral Sprains, Low and High Sprains


Ankle sprains are among the most common injuries experienced by basketball players. The way they commonly occur is when the foot rolls inward, which is referred to as a lateral ankle sprain.


The term low and high ankle sprain is sometimes used to denote the difference between a sprain of the lower ligaments (anterior talofibular and calcaneofibular ligaments) and the higher ligament (anterior tibiofibular ligament).


Very few ankle sprains require surgery unless recurrent and repeated instability occurs. The rehabilitation time needed to return to basketball can vary from 2-8 weeks following the sprain. Accute treatment includes rest, ice, compression and elevation, also referred to a RICE.


Rehabilitation should involve balance exercises to regain strength and proprioception. In a study at UW Sports Medicine, these exercises were shown to prevent ankle sprains. A separate study at UW Sports Medicine also concluded that lace up ankle braces can reduce the incidence of ankle injuries but not the severity of injuries, which was previously postulated.


Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Injury and Tears


Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) tears are less common but more severe. In most cases these injuries will require surgery. Athletes should not be allowed to return to basketball after an acute ACL injury without surgery and/or extensive rehabilitation. A study at UW Sports Medicine found that over half of the basketball athletes who returned to play with a torn ACL ended up causing further injury to their meniscus (cartilage in the knee). Even with surgery and rehabilitation, about 20 percent of these athletes will not return to sport.


Proper training can help reduce the likelihood of an ACL tear occurring. UW Health Sports Rehabilitation will be hosting a lower extremity injury prevention and performance program this June 16-August 8 for youth athletes and will include training techniques proven to help prevent ACL injury.




Injuries from concussion have been thought of as football injuries, but more and more research is demonstrating the occurrence of concussion in basketball, especially in females. Some studies report that female players experience concussions 240 percent more often than male players. The reason for this is not yet known.


It's critical that coaches and parents recognize how common concussions can be in sports outside of football. UW Health Sports Rehabilitation was one of the first institutions in the country to have a specific Sports Concussion Rehabilitation Clinic. While historically the treatment for concussion was rest, new research has shown benefit from low level aerobic exercise, balance exercises, vestibular training and neck strengthening. But, athletes should be evaluated prior to undergoing any treatment regime and returning to play.


At UW Sports Medicine we continue to research ways to make our youth athletes more safe. We are now offering injury prevention programs specifically for younger players. When injuries do occur, our doctors, athletic trainers and physical therapists use research-based treatments to get youth basketball players back on the court.