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An expert view: Are NBA stars being put at risk?

LeBron James talks about basketballer burnout

Basketball is growing in popularity on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, but is the UK aware of the incredible strain that professional NBA players are being put under?

There’s been a great deal of debate about the number of games being played in the NBA each season, with Cleveland Cavaliers megastar LeBron James recently stating that there are far too many matches. As things stand, the league has an 82-game schedule, and 29-year-old James believes this is excessive.

Speaking to ESPN.com in October 2014, the former Miami Heat player conceded that cutting the season down by a significant number of games would inevitably have a detrimental impact on revenue, but fans would ultimately enjoy a better product.

“At the end of the day, we want to protect the prize and the prize is the players. We have to continue to promote the game, and if guys are being injured because there are so many games, we can’t promote it at a high level,” James was quoted as saying.

While it’s clear that some of the NBA’s hottest properties are fearful that the packed schedule is putting them at greater risk of injury, where do expert physiotherapists stand on the matter?

“Those guys play a stupid amount of games”

If there is one person in the entire world who knows what burnt-out professional basketball players are going through, it’s Mark Comerford.

Mentor to Summit Physio Director Andy Hosgood, Mark is a current member of Sports Medicine Australia and has a wealth of experience working as a performance and rehab consultant for some of the NBA’s biggest teams, including the Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls.

When asked for his view on LeBron James’s comments, Mark said: “Those guys play a stupid amount of games!”

Mark claims to be “motivated by movement” and he analyses the minute details of a sportsperson’s technique, before offering advice on how they can tweak the way they do things in order to reduce the likelihood of injury. Having worked so closely with some of the world’s best basketball players, he knows which injuries are the most common, and it’s also interesting to hear that somebody who is so familiar with the nuances of elite player performance believes that the NBA season is indeed far too long.

Ankles under pressure

It will come as no surprise that the ankles of NBA stars are particularly vulnerable, after all, the game is played on a hard court that offers very little spring when compared with a grass surface.

According to research by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), 22 per cent of male basketball players have sustained an injury that has prevented them from taking to the court at some point. Of this number, 42 per cent sustained an ankle or foot injury, while 11 per cent had damaged their hip/thigh and a further nine per cent suffered a knee injury.

Adding to this, a paper published by the Journal of Sports Medicine in 2014 suggested that basketball was one of the sports in which ankle injuries are especially prominent.

Does it matter how long you spend on the court?

At this stage, we’re fairly confident that NBA players would be far less likely to sustain an injury if the season was streamlined to between 50 and 60 games at the most. But, is there also a case for shortening the length of each match?

Research would suggest that this would be a good idea. A 2014 Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport report indicated that there was a clear drop in the number of injuries and illnesses sustained in the NBA between 1986 and 2005 – when there were 12 players on each squad – and 2006 and 2010, by which point teams were permitted to name 15 pro players.

The number of injuries dropped by 13 per cent, while the amount of illnesses being reported fell by 39 per cent over the same period. With more players on a team, the burden is shared more evenly, meaning players can get away with spending less time on the court.

Intriguingly, in his interview with ESPN.com, LeBron James insisted that while he wanted to see the overall number of games reduced each season, he wouldn’t necessarily back a move to shorten the length of each match.

“In our season, 82 games is a lot. But it’s not the minutes,” he reportedly remarked.

“Once you go out and play on the floor, it don’t matter if you play 22 minutes – like I may be playing tonight – or you’re playing 40 minutes. Once you play, it takes a toll on your body. So it’s not lessening the minutes, I think it’s the games.”

This view appears to contradict the aforementioned research, but it adds an interesting new dimension to the overall argument. That said, we at Summit Physio are big advocates of getting plenty of rest between rigorous exercise sessions, and we think the superstars of the NBA would be able to perform far better if they were able to increase their recuperation time.

Of course, it’s not just the professionals who are in danger of burnout and injury. Amateurs also need to ensure they’re taking steps to protect themselves. Here are Summit’s seven top tips for avoiding basketball injuries. Make sure:

1. You complete a thorough sports-specific warm up before training or a game.
2. You complete some pre-hab-based training – completing a movement screen will highlight your weak link areas. These weak spots could potentially lead to increased risk of injury.
3. You have excellent core control and proprioception (balance training).
4. You consider training in all aspects of the sport, including speed, agility, endurance and strength.
5. If you do get an injury, make sure you manage it correctly and see a health professional for the right advice.
6. After training or a game, cool down and recover correctly.
7. You have the correct footwear with skid-resistant soles.

What are your views on this issue? Should the NBA sacrifice extra revenue in order to safeguard its players by shortening the season?

If you want to learn more about how to avoid sports injuries, or you’re intrigued to find out how The Performance Matrix can help you to improve your technique, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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