Understanding and Preventing Acute and Overuse Beach Volleyball Injuries
As the weather heat up in Southern California so does the intense competition in beach volleyball. The California Beach Volleyball Association reports nearly 8,000 active members across more than 10 age and skill divisions scattered throughout more than 20 locations along the state’s coastline. And that’s just in California! Beach volleyball season begins in the spring for high school and collegiate athletes. It becomes even more popular among professional, amateur, and recreational athletes of all ages, athletic abilities, and skill levels during the summer months.
Though orthopedic injury in beach volleyball players does not occur as frequently as in those who play volleyball on a hard-surface court, sports injuries DO happen. Knowing which injuries are most common in beach volleyball players, especially how to avoid them, is essential to reap all the excellent health and active living benefits this sport offers.
The significant difference in court type and conditions lends to the differences in orthopedic injury types most frequently sustained between beach volleyball and indoor or hard-court volleyball players. While the soft sand of a beach volleyball court can help protect players from impact-related sports injuries, the unevenness of a sand volleyball court lends to an increased risk of injuries related to falls, strains, and sprains. Additionally, with just two players on a beach volleyball court, versus six on an indoor or hard surface court, the volume of repetitive movements and differences in technical actions results in beach volleyball players performing more body movements in any given match.
Most acute (sudden onset) injuries in beach volleyball players are caused by defensive and attack actions. During these movements, players place significant stress on their joints. The three most common acute injuries include ankle, knee, and finger injuries. These three types of injury account for as much as half of all acute injuries sustained while playing on the beach and often result in missed play or practice time.
Ankle Injuries – These are the most common orthopedic sports injuries sustained by beach volleyball players and often result in the most extensive loss of playing and training time. Ankle sprains (less common in the sand than those experienced by those playing on an indoor court), ankle fractures, lacerations, abrasions to the skin of the ankle and foot (sand toe), and Achilles’ tendonitis are common injuries in beach volleyball players.
Knee Injuries – Patellar Tendonitis (common in many sports types where the knee is subject to repeated and forceful jumping activities, including spiking and blocking), Quadriceps Tendonitis, and Jumper’s Knee. Repetitive jumping and landing, even on the sand, can also result in inflammation of the patellar tendon in the knee.
Finger Injuries – As a result of the repetitive blocking, setting, and digging activities players perform using their hands – finger tendon and ligament injuries, as well as fractures and dislocations of the fingers or wrist, can and often are the result.
Acute orthopedic injuries in beach volleyball players are typically the result of a sudden onset injury. Overuse injuries mean that the damage develops gradually over time and is usually due to too much time repeating the same body motion. The three most common beach volleyball overuse injuries, according to study research, include:
Lower back pain – Pain in the low back (lumbar spine) at vertebrae levels L4-5 and L5-S1, spinal disc degeneration, and spondylolysis (a spinal stress fracture).
Shoulder pain – Generalized overuse pain in beach volleyball athletes, especially in the striking or spiking shoulder. Other overuse injuries of the shoulders of beach volleyball players can include infraspinatus muscle atrophy, shoulder tendinopathy, shoulder impingement, labral injuries and tears, rotator cuff inflammation, and rotator cuff degeneration.
As with any other sport at any level, prevention is possible with some focus and diligence during training and competition. Here are some important tips:
- Don’t forget to include some training for overall balance, especially since beach volleyball is played on an uneven surface,
- Land jumps appropriately, with the knees positioned over the toes.
- Performing lunges, squats, and glute bridges can help to strengthen leg muscles and aid in avoiding knee injuries,
- Always execute proper technique and prevent overuse from repetitive movements,
- External rotation and arm reach exercises can help to strengthen the shoulder,
- Consider patellar tendon straps, which can help unload stress on the tendon,
- Physical therapy and area-specific athletic training can also be beneficial in preventing beach volleyball and other sports-related injuries.
Adding the above suggestions to a regular fitness routine can have big injury-prevention payoffs even in the offseason. The sunshine and sea breeze are waiting, and beach volleyball players want to be competing on the sand and not recovering on the couch.