Should a basketball player rest an injury?

A couple weeks ago, I hurt my hip. I imagine that I hurt it while lifting weights, though I did not feel any pain until I was sitting through a lecture. When it did not feel better the following day, I asked my athletic-trainer classmate for any suggestions. He gave me the athletic trainer standby: ice, ibuprofen, and rest. 

I heeded his advice, and everything felt better. During my next weightlifting class, I tried some light lifts, mostly upper-body so I did not aggravate my hip. However, as I reached down to pick up a dumbbell, I had real pain, far beyond the discomfort that I had originally. I again heeded the original advice, but the pain did not dissipate. I nearly skipped class the next day because it hurt to walk downhill.

Finally, during my next weightlifting class, I hopped on a Spinning bike. After five minutes, I felt relief. After 30 minutes, I had no pain or discomfort. I walked home without any discomfort for the first time in a week. Movement, not ice, rest, or ibuprofen, made my hip feel better.

The April 2012 Men’s Health has an article titled “Pain-Free for Life” which promotes a new Men’s Health book, The Athlete’s Book of Home Remedies. The article offers very little in the way of new information and is clearly a promotional piece to entice readers to pick up the book. However, the author offers two points that are worth considering: (1) “I can control my pain with strength” and (2) “Healing is a two-step process: First, stop what you’re doing; second, keep going.”

The author relates a story about tearing his ACL and later realizing that when he strengthened his hips and glutes, he had less knee pain. Strength is preventative. For a basketball to prevent injury or recover quicker from injury, add strength. This does not mean simply adding pounds to the amount that the player can bench or squat. Additionally, it means to strengthen the ankles and hips through single-leg and balance exercises. Unilateral exercises force the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus to work to stabilize the leg. These muscles work as stabilizers in a single-leg stance (or landing) and help to prevent internal rotation with the hip flexed. Similarly, studies have shown that the ability to stand and hold one’s balance for 30 seconds greatly reduces one’s risk for an ankle sprain.

I typically incorporate a lot of single-leg exercises. When I worked in a gym and had oodles of time to waste, I worked with all of the unstable surfaces until I could do 15 squats standing on a stability ball.

There’s no real reason to do this, and I do not encourage the attempts. At the time, around 2005, it was something personal trainers did to challenge each other. I was not going to win any bench-press competitions, so I become good at standing on a ball and doing squats. More importantly, all of the balance and stability work to get to that point prevented ankle sprains. The strength, and balance, was preventative. I wore low-top shoes and landed wrong several times with no adverse consequences. I do various single-leg exercises – stand and hold, squat and reach, hop for distance, side to side hops, etc – in my dynamic warm-up of every practice to reduce the likelihood of ankle sprains in my players, and we made it through the season without a missed game or practice due to an ankle sprain.

The author’s second point was that when you injure something, stop what it is that caused the injury. For me, that was lifting weights. However, then find a way to keep moving without using or affecting the injured area (cycling). The author suggests that exercise is medicine, both from a physical and mental standpoint.

When should a basketball player rest? Different injuries require different strategies. However, as a general rule, players should use strength as a preventative measure and mobilize as quickly as possible to recover more quickly.

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