I’ve been playing volleyball for 17 years, and I’ve spent my fair share of time on the injured list. Even though volleyball isn’t technically a contact sport, that doesn’t mean volleyball players are immune from the collisions, falls and bizarre situations that lead to sports injuries.
So in this post I want to touch on some good ways to keep yourself safe while playing, and a couple of tips on a speedy path to recovery. (Disclaimer: These tips are based on my personal experience. I’m not a doctor or a medical professional. Consult someone who is if you get hurt)
Wear the right volleyball gear.
Volleyball shoes, or at least shoes designed for the quick stop-start movements that volleyball requires, will keep your lower body happy. Kneepads are an excellent piece of equipment to have on hand, just don’t let them cause you to fall incorrectly. This can cause more problems than the kneepads prevent.
If you have a history of ankle problems you’ll probably need ankle braces, but the wearing of braces to prevent injury is controversial subject. Some people think braces make your ankles weak and lead to future problems, others believe they’re an effective safeguard. Mercifully I haven’t had many ankle injuries — if you have experience either way give us a shout in the comments and tell us what you think.
Warm Up Properly
Get to the gym early enough to allow yourself at least 15 minutes of warm up time. Start with a light jog, and make sure you get your stretches in. For more details on a good warm up, check out 4 Stages of a Volleyball Warm Up.
Diligent pre-game warm ups will do so much to prevent pulled muscles, repetitive motion injuries and stiffness that there’s really no good reason to skip them. And for you younger players out there, trust us older folks: you’ll thank yourself for warming up in about 15 years.
Don’t Play Jungle Ball
If you’re really serious about avoiding injury, you may have to avoid the sloppy, scary style of volleyball that some people call “jungle ball.” This is the kind of game where nobody really knows the rules, they just smack the volleyball haphazardly and run around like chickens with their heads cut off.
That’s all well and good, and many people have fun in these kinds of games, but these kinds of inexperienced players don’t know where their positions are (or that there are positions at all), and will be very likely to step on you or run you over. They also typically have no concept of staying out of and/or not going under the net, so watch your feet and ankles.
If avoiding injury is important to you, your best bet may be to steer clear of these games altogether.
If, despite all your efforts at prevention you do find yourself the victim of an injury, get it diagnosed quickly by a professional. What I thought was a monster leg cramp turned out to be a torn calf muscle (I don’t recommend these, by the way), which I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t gotten it checked out. Lots of athletes avoid doctors because they’re afraid of missing games, but a few weeks of rehab is better than years of pain and a lingering injury.
Also, make sure you follow your doctor’s recommendations. Do the exercises, apply ice, take anti-inflammatories and stay off the injury as long as you’re told. It sucks now, but it’ll be worth it later. Don’t let your teammates pressure you into coming back too soon, or you risk re-injury and a longer rehab process.
To dull the pain of missing your games, try going along as a cheerleader, coach or stats keeper. A teammate of mine who broke her hand this year still came to all our games, and she helped out quite a bit as a coach. Attending games can keep you from feeling like you’re missing out on your team’s season, just don’t let it lead to a premature return.
And make sure you’re not getting too out of shape. Depending on your injury, try to keep other body parts working just as hard as usual. For example, you may still be able to lift weights (arms only) and do abdominal exercises with an ankle injury, or a shoulder injury might be a good excuse to try a stationary bike and some squats.
Here’s wishing everyone an injury-free season. Everybody has an injury horror story – share yours in the comments, or give us some tips on how you deal with injuries.