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Hand, Wrist, and Elbow Injuries in Basketball

Dribbling, passing, catching, and shooting the basketball means that the hands, wrists, and elbows can get worked over quite a bit during a basketball game. Let’s discuss some of the most common hand, wrist, and elbow injuries that affect basketball players.

Wrist Sprains

Wrist sprains occur when a ligament is stretched or torn, usually when the wrist is bent forcefully. Wrist sprains can occur if a player falls on the court onto an outstretched hand. A sprain may be mild, where the the ligaments are stretched, or more severe, where the ligaments are torn either partially or completely.

Treatment: Most wrist sprains can be treated without surgery, although surgery may be required if the ligament is torn completely. Nonsurgical treatment for a wrist sprain often includes immobilization with a splint and anti-inflammatory medications. The RICE method is often recommended for wrist sprains as well. RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.

Fractured Fingers/Hands

Hand and/or finger fractures often occur as the result of a finger jam. This can happen if a player runs into another player, when catching the basketball, or during a fall. Although the bones in the hands and fingers are very small, a fracture can put the whole hand out of alignment, making even simple tasks difficult and painful. Both Robbie Hummel of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Steven Adams of the Oklahoma City Thunder have recently experienced a hand fracture and are not expected to return until the end of February at the soonest.

Treatment: In most cases, the bones can be realigned without surgery and placed in a cast or splint while the fracture heals. Casts or splints may be worn anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks, depending on the severity of the fracture and how fast it heals. In some cases, surgery may be needed to realign the bones properly and pins, screws, or wire may be needed to hold the bones in place. In Adams’ case, the fracture did require surgery, which he underwent recently.

Elbow Tendonitis

Elbow tendonitis is an overuse injury that can occur in basketball players as the result of dribbling, passing, and shooting the ball. With elbow tendonitis, the tendons that attach the forearm muscles to the elbow become inflamed and swollen, causing pain in the elbow.
Symptoms often begin as mild pain that gradually gets worse.

Treatment: In most cases, elbow tendonitis can be successfully treated without the need for surgery. Only if symptoms do not improve with nonsurgical treatment is surgery recommended. Nonsurgical treatment includes rest, anti-inflammatory medications, and physical therapy. In some cases, a brace may be recommended, and cortisone injections may be administered to relieve inflammation. If surgery is needed, it can often be done arthroscopically, which allows for a quicker recovery time than traditional open surgery.

Elbow Bursitis

Elbow bursitis refers to irritation or inflammation of the bursa, which are thin, slippery sacs that cushion the bones and soft tissues. Bursitis can be caused by injury, repetitive activity, or an infection. Bursitis makes the elbow swell, and fluid accumulates in the bursa. It can become painful to bend the elbow as the swelling increases.

Treatment: In most cases, elbow bursitis is treated without surgery first. Anti-inflammatory medications or cortisone injections may be recommended to help with pain and swelling. The fluid may be aspirated, or removed, from the elbow with a needle. If the bursitis has does not improve with nonsurgical treatment, the entire bursa may be surgically removed; the bursa will usually grow back over the course of several months and function normally. Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers has dealt with bursitis over the course of his career, having his elbow aspirated regularly. However, after a recent elbow aspiration procedure, Griffin developed a staph infection in the elbow, and will need to have surgery to remove the infection.

As we gear up for the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday and the upcoming NCAA March Madness, we’ll continue to cover common basketball injuries, treatment, and prevention. Follow me on Twitter @GleiberMD for the latest updates.