Keep those netball injuries at bay

Netball keeping injury at bay
Image Credit: Flickr: April Ngern 035, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Statistics show that more girls and women in the UK are playing netball than ever before. Why is this?
Netball is a face paced, exciting team sport that everyone should try and that in itself should be enough, but one of the main reasons attributed to this rise in numbers is the England Roses’  historic gold medal win (over Australia may we add) at the Commonwealth Games earlier this year. According to a YouGov poll over 100,000 women have been inspired to start playing netball. England Netball also launched their very successful ‘Back to Netball’ campaign which has encouraged over 60,000 women, (since 2009) who haven’t played for years, to play again. With the World Cup in Liverpool taking place next year, the sport is expected to keep on growing. Did you know that men’s (yes men’s!) mixed netball, which is called Nets, is also on the rise?

Netball is considered a non contact sport (if you have ever played the game you quickly realise this is not really the case) which requires muscular endurance with bursts of rapid acceleration, sudden and rapid changes in direction and lots of jumping! The power, speed, impact, balance and skill that it requires places many demands on the bodies of players and as a result, injuries can and do occur. In fact, statistics show us that 14 netball injuries occur in every 1,000 hours played, and that there are more leg injuries in netball than in both football and rugby! Next time you watch a game look out for all the players wearing either strapping or support braces. Here are some netball facts and the most common injuries.

Netball facts

Ankle Sprains

The ankle accounts for 40% of netball injuries, and can range from minor sprains (may only take a week of rest and rehab) to more serious sprains which can have a much longer recovery period (think 6-8 weeks). Most netball ankle injuries occur when the ankle rolls outward, causing the sole of the foot to turn inwards. This forces the ankle join out of its normal position and causes damage to the surrounding ligaments. The most commonly injured ligament is the anterior talofibular ligament. 

Achilles Tendinopathy

The achilles tendon is the thick tendon at the back of the lower leg which attaches the calf muscles to the back of the heel. Tendinopathy is an inflammatory or degenerative condition which causes pain, thickening and stiffness in the tendon. It often feels like burning pain or like somebody has kicked you hard just above your heel. Achilles injuries are common in netball due to the repetitive jumping and landing on a hard surface. A torn achilles can take you away from sport for 6 – 8 months and will often require surgery. 

Patellar Tendinopathy

Patella tendinopathy is inflammation and degeneration of the patella tendon (or ligament as it is sometimes called) This tendon attaches the patella and the quadriceps muscles to the Tibia (shin bone). Often called ‘jumper’s knee’, like achilles tendinopathy, it is prevalent in sports involving jumping and bounding. 

ACL Injuries

The ACL is the anterior cruciate ligament, which sits deep within the knee and is vital in providing stability to the knee joint. The ACL injuries most often occur during a twisting motion of the knee. It is a frequent injury in netball due to the high speed, deceleration, twisting and pivoting. The player will feel immediate severe pain, followed by substantial swelling and a feeling of instability. This is a devastating injury to netballers as it usually requires surgery, prolonged rehabilitation and time away from the sport.

Finger Dislocations

This is the first of the common injuries we have listed that does not involve the leg. Netballers are prone to finger dislocations or fractures. A dislocation is where the bones of the finger are moved (dislocated) from their normal position. This can occur in any of the joints of any finger. This injury is most common when the ball hits the end of the finger (pushing together the joints) or when the ball hits the fingers on your palm side (causing your finger joints to bend backwards or ‘hyperextend’). Both of these may lead to a dislocation or fracture as well as damage to ligaments or tendons. If a dislocation happens an x-ray will ensure that the alignment of the joint is correct and that there is no fracture.

Treatment will depend on the extent of the injury and can range from taping to moulded finger or hand splints.

What to do if you get injured while playing netball?

Come off the court! And then apply RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) for the first 48 hours post injury. We recommend this is followed by seeing a Doctor and then a Physiotherapist. They can work out a rehabilitation program to get you back on the court as soon as possible. Treatment will include education on the injury and how it is managed, stretching and strengthening exercises and referral to any other appropriate health professionals if required.

Staying injury free

Although we have talked above about how netball does involve a risk of injury, there are ways to help prevent this happening (our aim isn’t to scare you off the court ?). Like most sports the key to injury prevention is in the warm up, the stretching and the training. Recent studies suggest that a dynamic warm up is key to preventing injury. A dynamic warm up uses stretches that are “dynamic,” meaning you are moving as you stretch. This approach helps an athlete develop the movement, skill and strength necessary for netball as well as prepare the body to train and play.

A key part of a dynamic warm up is strengthening exercises that target the muscles needed for netball and also replicate the movements of the game. Take a look at this excellent Dynamic Warm Up guide from Netball New Zealand which is a great resource for planning your warm up.

It is also worth noting that knee injuries often occur because of weak glute (butt) muscles that are not doing their job of keeping the knee in alignment properly. Try and incorporate some glute strengthening exercises into your exercise routine to keep those butt muscles strong. You can find a range of these in our recent blog: ‘It’s all about the butt’.

If you have a netball injury, have any questions or need any help, please feel free to get in touch. Otherwise we hope you stay injury free and enjoy the game!

Sports Medicine Australia
Teach PE
Steele and Milburn 1987
Fong et al. 2007


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