How Basketball Players Get Hurt.

NBA Misses at Shot at Preventing Basketball Injuries

The loss of Derrick Rose, sidelined with a meniscus tear, knocks a big hole in this year’s basketball season. And the injury to the Chicago Bulls’ star is only the latest in a series of injuries besetting the sport.

A rotator cuff injury took the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant out in January. The list goes on, and it reaches far deeper than the elite ranks of NBA pros.

More than half a million people go to emergency rooms with basketball injuries every year in the United States, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission. That’s the most of any sport; 1.2 times more than football and 2.4 times more than soccer.

Yet basketball lags behind soccer when it comes to injury prevention. Driven in part by the growing participation of girls — and a high rate of knee injuries among them — FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association), the Switzerland-based governing body, took decisive action.

Beginning in the 1990s, medical staff worked out exercises that strengthen knees and other vulnerable body parts, and teach athletes safer ways of moving. They got top professional players from around the world to promote the program, FIFA11+.

NCAA men’s teams who used the protocol slashed their rates of injury by a half or more. Something very similar could work for basketball, according to Bert Mandelbaum, a Santa Monica orthopedic surgeon who helped develop the FIFA program. “You would need very slight modifications,” he said.

So far the NBA has not undertaken anything similar. “It’s something we’ll review from time to time and may pursue in the future,” NBA spokesman Tim Frank said.

Officially the NBA doesn’t have the same responsibility as FIFA to take on the issue because it’s not the world’s top governing body for basketball. That role falls officially to FIBA (Fédération Internationale de Basket-ball), also based in Switzerland. FIBA governs USA Basketball, which governs the NBA.

FIBA spokespersons did not return calls for this article. And the organization’s decisions don’t carry the same wait as FIFA’s.  “USA Basketball doesn’t really have a say in how the NBA runs its league,” USA Basketball spokesman Craig Miller said. “It’s more the other way around.”

And Miller doesn’t foresee much movement toward an injury prevention program in FIBA. “You have in the United States a lot of medical expertise available through the NBA and NCAA,” Miller said. “There are trainers and conditioning coaches. So a lot of those things are in place already. Around the world there is probably a need for that in less developed nations. But I don’t know if FIBA is in a position to do that.”

The skill of trainers and coaches does not appear to match up to a systematic program such as the FIFA11+, however. The NCAA teams in the recent FIFA11+ study fared much better than the ones left to the care of these experts.

In fact, in a 2012 study found that teenaged basketball players who trained with the FIFA11+ — the program designed for soccer – reduced their injury rates by 40% compared to players who simply followed the advice of their trainers.

And most people who play the sport don’t have the benefit of any such expertise.