Basketball: Getting the Wow Without the Ow!

The game gives great fitness benefits, but too much too soon is a recipe for disaster.

Yay, basketball! Yikes, basketball! It’s good for you. But it can be bad, too … if you don’t prepare.

Basketball involves a combination of cardio and coordination that makes it ideal for all around fitness. But fitness experts warn you shouldn’t just, um, jump in. Getting ready in advance for the zigging, the zagging, the bouncing, and banging will go a long way toward keeping you on the court and having fun, instead of on your back and grumbling.

“If it was ever true to not play the sport to get in shape, but to get in shape to play the sport, this is it,” says Dr. Michael Baraga, a sports medicine specialist and orthopedic surgeon with UHealth’s Sports Medicine Institute.

Baraga really knows basketball. He’s a self-proclaimed weekend warrior, and team physician for both the men’s and women’s University of Miami basketball teams.

He also knows basketball injuries. And he knows that now, between New Year’s resolutions and watching college and pro basketball getting deep into the season, lots of people get inspired to head for the court to play some hoops. And lots of them end up in emergency rooms and doctor’s offices after they do.

SHOOTING PAINS

The injuries, he says, mostly involve the lower-body extremities – knees, ankles, and feet. And they fall into two categories: overuse and acute. You can tell the difference because the first kind gets worse the more you play. The other makes you stop. Right now!

Overuse injuries include things like stress fractures and Jumper’s Knee – also known as patellar tendinitis – that shows up as everything from a throbbing discomfort to a sharp, debilitating pain at the bottom of the kneecap.

The other kind turns up all of a sudden – ACL tears, tendon ruptures, and that sort of thing.

“Aches and pains can sometimes be normal in terms of soreness, and differentiating between what’s bad and what’s normal can be difficult,” Baraga says. “I would say that anything that persists beyond that initial time after the activity, a day or two. Or anything that’s causing swelling, limping. Those are certainly situations that should probably be evaluated.”

SMALL STEPS, BIG GAINS

While physical activity is a good habit to get into, he says, “it’s rarely a good idea to just show up off the couch and start sprinting and running and playing full court, five on five. And then stop and go back home. That’s generally a recipe for disaster.”

Baraga advises what he calls “The 10 Percent Rule.”

“In general, it requires starting gradually,” he said, “and just increasing the amount of activity about 10 percent per week – as opposed to going up 200 percent.”

Follow that rule and it’s pretty certain the only March Madness you’ll be complaining about is how the teams in your bracket did.