Top 3 Ways to Avoid Injury and Ensure Longevity in Volleyball

Top 3 Ways to Avoid Injury and Ensure Longevity in Volleyball

CASTAWAY WILSON AND PICK UP A DUMBBELL

Enough is enough… I’ve got 3 things for you today: a rant, a lesson about movement, and a recipe for keeping your body performing at its highest potential.

Too many talented young athletes and strong women are getting injured playing the sport they love. As a passionate volleyball player myself who still plays competitively on the beach, I am excited to see that the sport of volleyball has grown greatly over the years. With the addition of beach volleyball to collegiate athletics, a spark has been ignited in the youth fueling year-round competition with little to no rest or off-season. There appears to be an unspoken expectation that to be the best in volleyball or to earn a college scholarship, one needs to be competing year-round. I am here to tell you that as much as I love and support volleyball, such a high volume of single-sport training and competition without balance (rest, periodization, or cross training) has been scientifically shown to lead to detrimental overuse injuries that can negatively impact a player’s future volleyball career. As a physical therapist and former collegiate volleyball player, I want nothing more than to help these amazing players and athletes with tremendous potential stay healthy and injury free! I want them to be able to enjoy their passion of volleyball for years to come. This starts with learning about how to respect and treat the body off the volleyball court.

Repetitive movement patterns with faulty mechanics will lead to overloading (too much stress) in the ligaments, tendons, cartilage, bones, and muscles comprising our skeletal system. It’s the simple fact that when you tell 10 kids to hit the ball over the net, they’re going to do it 10 different ways. No coach can bring about perfection in form for all their athletes, but they must be able to recognize when poor mechanics need correcting to prevent irreversible damage to their athlete’s bodies. Take, for example, a 10-year-old, tall, girl that has excessive shoulder mobility but poor core stability and tight hips from growing too fast. If you ask her to jump serve, there’s a good chance she’s going to drive her knees excessively inward upon preparing to jump, arch her back to ensure her hand gets behind the ball, and fail to slot her shoulder correctly when striking the ball. This may not always be the case, but if not corrected it will definitely lead to increased stress across the ligaments in her knees, excessive force across her lumbar spine, and probable rotator cuff or labral injuries in her shoulder. I don’t blame coaches, but I do hold them responsible for not letting the parents know if they see a pattern in hitting that looks to be detrimental to the body. I also believe the long-term growth and success of the volleyball organizations depends heavily on how quickly they begin to ask movement professionals to screen their athletes for potential areas of dysfunction.

The dynamic, 3D movements executed in volleyball inflict a tremendous amount of stress across the athlete’s body. When this force isn’t absorbed properly by the musculoskeletal system, injury will occur. Research has shown that the most common areas volleyball athlete’s are overusing involve the knees, shoulders, ankles, and fingers. I’d argue that the back/spine is often also involved, but might not be symptomatic. In order to stop these patterns, each player must gain a better understanding of how to move their body properly when preparing to hit, dive, jump, shuffle, backpedal, and sprint. If we, as movement professionals, can better screen the athletes for faulty mechanics, then custom programs can be given to each player. These programs should incorporate tri-planar movement patterns that are different from the repetitive nature of some of the skills in volleyball, thus off-loading the areas of the body that are being stressed too much. It’s my goal to custom-tailor workouts, warmups, and conditioning based off the needs of the individual.

Here’s my 3 most basic steps all movement professionals should be incorporating to keep our athletes’ bodies performing during season.

  1. Incorporating warm-ups with increased spinal, hip, and shoulder mobility, muscle activation, and play. By integrating fun and competitive activities in warm-ups and/or cool-downs that challenge different systems and movement patterns in our body, we can offset the imbalances created in the repetitive nature of volleyball movements, ultimately making the athletes more well rounded. For example, games like Ultimate Frisbee using a player’s non-dominant arm would be a great warm-up activity. This still challenges hand-eye coordination, torso rotation in the opposing direction than is repetitively performed in volleyball, and agility, without overuse of the same movement patterns.
  2. Integrate functional core work into the team/athlete’s program 3x/week. A strong core is pivotal in prevention of injury in volleyball. The key word here is “functional” core. Your core is an interaction between your upper and lower body (your hips/pelvis and your thoracic spine). Core training should ultimately be based on volleyball specific demands, however the training must involve 3D movements to create balance and stability in the body, and counteract the repetitive overuse patterns. For example, once an athlete can achieve a basic plank, begin changing the exercise by having the athlete stabilize on one arm or elbow and reaching the opposite hand in different directions (tri-planar movement) . At Catalyst, we call this an “upper extremity ground reach matrix” as it challenges the arm and torso to work as one, dynamic unit to accomplish the task of reaching in all directions while maintaining a plank.

    UE GROUND REACH MATRIX

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  3. Train the legs to load and explode from all positions because in volleyball, jumps, approaches, and landings vary so much during a heated competition. For example, imagine how often we pass or lunge for a ball with our feet perfectly symmetrical…not often. Rather than training our athletes to squat with their feet in a perfectly symmetrical position, we can practice squatting with our feet staggered, toed-in, toed-out, wide, or narrow for example. Progressions to this squat matrix would be from two legged to one legged squatting, and eventually into plyometrics, working on the mechanics of jumping and landing to avoid faulty movement patterns and injury.

The sport of volleyball has brought me such joy, fulfillment, friendships, and a healthy outlet throughout my life! Combining this with my knowledge of the human body and movement science has fueled my passion to give back to the sport that has brought me so much, by working with volleyball athletes to keep them injury free and in the game!

Sorry for my rant, but I’m just tired of seeing so much stellar talent go to waste from inadequate training. After all, If you want soft serve, go to Dairy Queen…If you want to play with a little more zest out there and maximize your potential, come see me or one of our movement professionals at Catalyst Physical Therapy & Wellness. We’ll take you through our one-of-a-kind volleyball screen that is proven to expose your areas of concern. Using this data, we’ll then custom-make a program for you that guarantees success and longevity in the sport!