Volleyball Knee Injuries and How to Prevent Them

Whether you’re new to the game or you’ve been playing for many years, one thing you have to be aware of is the risk of knee injuries. While it is a no contact sport, there is a very high incidence of knee injuries.

Some of these are impact injuries that can happen when you slip or fall. Others are down to repetitive strain that can become very debilitating.

These injuries can also cause big problems for everyday life, as the pain can become very serious.

In my profession as a physio therapist I often work with volleyball players. So, I decided to write up this post to help you understand the different types of injuries, and also some ideas on how to prevent them.

Types of Knee Injuries

Not only do you expose your knees to excessive jumping, but also to twisting, contact with other team members, and “one-foot landing” when you lose balance. Knee injuries can result in chronic pain, if the injury doesn’t heal right.

Here are some common injuries you might encounter during your game.

1. ACL Injury

ACL means anterior cruciate ligament which connects the front of your tibia or shinbone to the back of your femur or thigh bone. It stabilizes your knee joint and prevents knee hyperextension. When you stop and change direction suddenly or land awkwardly after jumping, you might tear your ACL followed by a loud popping sound and inflammation.

It’s also a very painful experience, and was one reason why my sporting career was cut short.

2. Patellar Tendonitis or Jumper’s Knee

Studies show that as high as 43% of volleyball players suffer from jumper’s knee which is the overuse of your patellar tendon, the tissue that attaches your kneecap to your shinbone. Repetitive pressure develops micro-tears with symptoms such as inflammation and pain under your kneecap that limit your performance over time.

3. Chondromalacia Patellae or Runner’s Knee

Chondromalacia patellae is the softening and deterioration of the articular cartilage on the undersurface of the patella or kneecap. Common among young players, the early degenerative changes of the cartilage could be the result of overuse, muscle imbalance, poor alignment of bones or muscles near the knee joint, and trauma such as a fracture.

This condition begins when the cartilage softens and eventually breaks into a mass of fibers. If you put pressure on your knee, it creates friction to the undersurface of the kneecap as it glides over the lower end of the thigh bone. These two bones of the knee joint rub closely, which may eventually progress to patellofemoral arthritis.

4.  Patellofemoral Arthritis (Osteoarthritis)

Patellofemoral arthritis is a condition where you lose the articular cartilage, a tough and rubbery layer of connective tissue that covers the ends of your kneecap and thigh bone. When the articular cartilage is damaged, there’s nothing to provide a smooth lubricated surface between the two bones and facilitate transmission of loads.

When you put weight on your knee, you feel significant pain in your joint and may continue even when you’re resting. Then, you may develop inflammation, stiffness, and clicking or grinding sensation when the bones scrape against one another. At this stage, you could be sidelined and may require surgery or rest for several months.

5. Meniscus Injury

A meniscus is another type of cartilage between your thighbone and shinbone (tibia), just below the articular cartilage. The lateral (outside) and medial (inside) menisci offer cushion between the bones to protect them as you move. These fibrous C-shaped pads act as shock absorbers, especially during high impact and pressure.

Repeated forceful twisting or hyper-flexing of the knee joint can tear your meniscus, particularly on the lateral side. A torn meniscus causes pain, inflammation, stiffness, locking of your knee, and you have trouble extending your knee fully. Except when the torn meniscus has locked the knee, you can still walk, stand and sit without pain.

Prevention Techniques and Strategies

For a competitive volleyball player, it requires mental and physical toughness to become a champion on the court. But first, you need to acquire techniques and strategies to play safely and effectively. In time as your body adapts, it develops resilience and flexibility, so you can play with greater power and confidence.

1. Landing Tips

Correct position and execution when landing is the principal consideration to prevent knee injury. Avoid landing on straight knees, let your lower limb absorb the force by landing “softly” with your hips, knees, and ankles bent. Align knees with your second toes while your hips back and don’t let your knees collapse or rotate.

Since you’re in a competition, you also need to learn how to land explosively. You can achieve the correct position through training to improve skills and performance. Include in your training double and single-leg hopping and jumping exercises that emphasize speed and force absorption to develop velocity and power.

2. High-Intensity Interval Training or HIIT

High-intensity interval training involves a measured period of high-intensity exercises or workouts followed by a measured less intense recovery period to improve cardiovascular strength and stamina. An example would be a 30 seconds sprint followed by 1-minute walking and alternating the two exercises for 15 to 30 minutes.

You can benefit more from HIIT with cutting and directional changes that imitate your movements during the game than the long cardiovascular workouts. Here are some examples of HIIT:

  • Ladder Workout
  • One Legged Tuck Jump Shuffle Combo
  • Lateral Shuffles
  • Shuttle Drill
  • Burpees
  • Lunge Jumps
  • Box Jumps
  • Lateral Hops

3. Wearing of Knee Pads

Knee pads are protective gear from impact injury when you fall on the court by kneeling or diving to hit the ball. You can choose to wear thick knee pads for maximum protection or thin ones without side padding for better movements. They should be snug, so they won’t slide off but not make you uncomfortable and cut-off your circulation.

Some players choose not to wear knee pads because they already develop the skills to protect their knees. However, accidents do happen, and you could never be complacent about safety, so keep your knees secure with knee pads. Get one with advanced engineering design and moisture-wicking property, so you barely notice them at all.

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