11 Common Injuries in Volleyball (& Helpful Prevention Tips)

Any time you play a sport, you take a chance of getting injured. You might not suffer the same injuries playing volleyball that you could get on the soccer field. So how could you get hurt playing volleyball?

The most common volleyball injuries are to the knees, shoulders, and lower back. Ankle sprains, hand damage, and bruises are also common. Concussions, though rare, can occur. 

Here is a list of 11 common volleyball injuries:

  1. Ankle injuries
  2. Patellar tendinitis
  3. Shoulder pain
  4. Bruises
  5. Finger injuries
  6. Rotator cuff tears
  7. Lower back pain
  8. Labral tears
  9. Concussions
  10. Torn fingernails
  11. Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injuries

In a given year, about 200,000 volleyball injuries sent players to clinics, doctor’s offices, or emergency rooms. Even though volleyball is considered a safer sport than many others, players can still get injured playing. This guide is for you if you want to be aware of possible injuries, how to treat them, and how to prevent them. We will start with the head and work our way down.

Head Injuries

Even though they are not common injuries, concussions can occur in volleyball. These can happen through a head-to-head collision as players dive for a ball. A player diving for a ball can also hit the pole of the net.  

A volleyball ball can travel at around 80 mph or more, which means that it can possibly do quite a bit of damage, especially if it hits a player on the head. This usually happens to defensive players trying to return a serve or a spike, and it is more likely that a weaker player will misjudge the force or speed of the ball.

A concussion should be treated promptly by a medical professional. If a player gets hit in the head, remove them from the game immediately. Look for signs of dizziness, behavioral changes, blurred vision, or complaints of headaches.

Prevention

Players should always call for a ball before they pass or dive. Limit the number of balls in the air when practicing, and make sure the area around the court is free from chairs and other objects.

Shoulder Injuries

Repeated overhead serving, spiking, and blocking put a lot of stress on a player’s shoulders. Younger players will typically experience pain as they overwork the ligaments and muscles. Competitive players can damage their rotator cuffs through overuse of the muscles surrounding the rotator cuff.

When the shoulder muscles are not strong enough to prevent the shoulder from overextending, a player can also damage the cartilage (labrum), causing a labral tear.

Prevention

Exercises to avoid “thrower’s shoulders” should include stretches and other exercises to condition that part of the body. The Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has created a handout with conditioning exercises.

Hand Injuries

If you have ever seen volleyball players who have taped their fingers, they do so to avoid hand injuries. These are some types of hand injuries that can happen:

Finger Sprains

Finger injuries such as dislocations, fractures, and tearing of tendons or ligaments are quite common. Since fingers are vulnerable to these kinds of injuries, prevention is the best strategy. Players will tape their fingers for added strength, to avoid having them bent, and to protect a finger that has been hurt.  

If you hurt your fingers, stop playing to make sure the injury doesn’t aggravate. If you cannot bend your fingers, it is time to get out of the court. Often an ice treatment to reduce the swelling is the first step. Before you play again, buddy tape your hurt finger to a healthy finger. 

Skin or Fingernail Damage

Players also use tape to prevent a torn fingernail. Also, keeping fingers spread wide can lead to breaks in the skin between the fingers. Daily moisturizing helps prevent torn skin damage.  

Back Injuries

Pain in the lower back is common among volleyball players. Straining of the muscles occurs from repeated bending, rotation, and overextension during hitting and setting. Lower back pain can become chronic over time.  

If a player pulls a muscle, rest and ice are called for. If the pain can be felt in the legs and/or there is numbness in the feet or ankles, that could be a sign of a more severe injury, such as a herniated disk. An MRI might be necessary to make sure that is not the case.

Another back injury, spondylolysis, is a fracture of one of the vertebrae in the lower back. If back pain lasts for a month (or more) and is worse when you bend backward, it’s time to consult your doctor.

Prevention

Exercises to strengthen the back include stretches such as bridges and knee-to-chest, strengthening the abdominal muscles through curls, and leg lifts. Medical News Today recommends these ten back-strengthening exercises.

Knee Injuries

Knee injuries are caused by repeated jumping that is part of the game. Players injure their knees in two ways.

The most common knee injury is patellar tendonitis (aka jumper’s knee). The tendon in the kneecap (patella) that connects to your shinbone can become inflamed or injured from the repeated use of the knees. If a player has uneven leg muscles or plays with lightly padded shoes on hard surfaces, they are more susceptible to jumper’s knee. About 15% of recreational volleyball players, and nearly half of the professional players, at some point, experience “jumper’s knee.”

A second knee injury happens when a player and the knee bends sideways. The player then tears the ligament on the side of the knees. An Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury causes immediate knee swelling and a painful “pop” sound. If you think this injury has occurred, a doctor should check it out. She may order an MRI to rule out the injury.

Prevention

Knee pads protect the knee from bruising, so wear them when you play. Practice using proper techniques when jumping or landing. These include:

  • Land with your knees bent.  
  • Have your kneecap lined up with your second toe.  
  • Use the gluteal muscles in your buttocks to start your jump.

Ankle Injuries

Volleyball players experience this injury more than any other, accounting for 40% of all injuries. Landing incorrectly is one way these injuries occur. Players also injure their ankles at the net when a player from one team accidentally lands on another player’s foot.

If a player injures their ankle, the first goal is to relieve pain and reduce swelling. Avoid putting weight on the injured foot.  

Floor Burns and Bruises

Falls can lead to bruises on a player’s knees, hips, and elbows. These injuries are common to volleyball players. Contact with a ball on the arms also leads to bruising. Although an occasional bump or scrape is not serious, repeated injury of an area can lead to swelling and pain in that area.  

Prevention

Protective equipment is the best way to prevent bruising injuries. Consider taping your wrists, using arm sleeves and knee pads, and wearing shorts that provide some cushioning for the hips.

Bottom Line

Treatment of minor injuries—like sprains or bruises–that happen during a game should follow the PRICE protocol—protect, rest, ice, compression, and elevate. A competitive player might not like the rest part of the protocol. However, rest is important, so the injury can heal properly.  

Other injuries—such as thrower’s shoulder or jumper’s knees—become apparent over time. For volleyball players, constant pain in a specific area might be a sign of a more serious injury, such a rotator cuff injury, patellar tendonitis, or lower back injury. Since these injuries are not immediately noticeable, the best prevention is conditioning and learning good techniques.  

Kids can get these kinds of injuries from either playing too many sports or focusing only on one. Find a good balance between one and too many.  

Of course, head injuries should always be treated as potential concussions and require immediate medical attention.