Common Volleyball Injuries & How to Prevent Them

This content was updated for accuracy and relevance on 07/03/23

Volleyball is one of the most popular sports in the world. This fun, fast-paced, and agile sport requires the athlete to be ready to go from head to toe, meaning that the risk of injury can be high. It can take a serious toll on an individual and lead to an ankle injury, knee injury, and even lower back pain. Read on to learn some of the most common injuries in volleyball, how to prevent them, and how physical therapy plays a role in injury risk reduction and rehabilitation for volleyball athletes.

The Most Common Volleyball Injuries  

Injuries in volleyball are usually the result of an acute injury or an overuse injury that results in sprains, strains, fractures, dislocations, or concussions. Having these injuries assessed promptly can aid in quick identification and appropriate treatment for a swift and safe return to the court. Treatment for these injuries may require rest, physical therapy, or in some rare cases, surgery. Let’s break down volleyball injuries into body regions and go a little more in-depth for each one.

1. Ankle Injuries

By far, the most common injuries in volleyball occur at the ankle due to the amount of cutting, twisting, and landing that occurs during a game or practice. Of all ankle injuries, sprains and strains are the most common. Ankle sprains occur when one of the many ligaments in the ankle is stretched or torn. Ankle strains occur when there is an injury to one of the muscles or tendons in the ankle or foot. Both can be painful and cause swelling or bruising. Typically, an ankle sprain or strain resolves on its own with rest and may require an ankle brace. Occasionally, and especially if the athlete has experienced several ankle sprains or strains in their athletic career, it will need further expert guidance and support from a physical therapist to help the athlete return to the court quickly and safely.  

2. Concussions 

Concussions in volleyball can result from getting hit on the head with a ball, a collision with another player, or a collision with a net pole or the floor. It is essential that when an athlete has potentially experienced a concussion that they are assessed by a health care provider that is knowledgeable of and up to date with information for concussion management. The symptoms of concussions are many and varied, and no two concussions present the same way. The full array of symptoms can sometimes take hours or days to fully present. 

Possible symptoms include: 

  • Dizziness
  • Balance problems
  • Clumsiness
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Headache
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Ringing in ears
  • Sluggishness
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty with memory
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Behavior or personality changes. 

Often, concussion symptoms resolve on their own within 2-3 weeks with cognitive rest (avoiding screens and schoolwork that require a lot of attention and concentration), physical rest (avoiding activities such as running or weightlifting), and avoiding situations or activities that bring on symptoms. It is encouraged that the athlete does as much as they feel they can, but once symptoms spike, take a break and return to the activity only when their symptoms have subsided. If concussion symptoms aren’t improving within 2-3 weeks, it is imperative that the athlete follow up with a concussion specialist for more specific, targeted, and timely concussion management. 

3. Knee injuries 

Another common injury for a volleyball player is in the knee. A common knee injury for volleyball players is known as “jumper’s knee,” or patellar tendinopathy. This term describes acute or chronic irritation and/or inflammation at the tendon just below the knee cap. This happens as the result of repetitive jumping and landing, especially on hard surfaces such as a volleyball court. 

Athletes who experience jumper’s knee typically report pain and stiffness at their knee joint, especially towards the end of a practice or in the hours after a practice or game. Consulting with your physical therapist to make necessary adjustments in weak links of the athlete’s training or recovery tactics is usually warranted to manage this pain.

4. Shoulder Injuries 

Overhead serving, spiking, and blocking all require a healthy shoulder for a volleyball athlete. Overuse, inadequate training, and inadequate rest can lead to these common shoulder injuries in volleyball players.  

  • Rotator cuff tear – These typically present as pain at the back or top of the shoulder and can be described as a sharp pinch or a deep ache. Rotator cuff tears can be diagnosed by a physical therapist or a sports medicine doctor. Depending on the severity of the shoulder injury, it may require orthopedic surgery, but in most cases, it can be managed by physical therapy and rest. 
  • Labral tears– A labral tear can present as a locking, clicking, or popping with a deep aching pain at the back, top, or front of the shoulder. When there is damage to this structure, it can cause pain, weakness, loss of power, or feelings of instability. Like a rotator cuff tear, this shoulder injury can be diagnosed by your physical therapist or sports medicine doctor, possibly requiring surgery depending on the severity. However, most labral tears are successfully managed by physical therapy and rest.  
  • Shoulder instability – This results from an arm’s excessive rotation during a serve or spike. This excessive motion is what gives volleyball players the ability to hit a ball harder and faster. This then requires that the athlete be strong and stable through this larger range of motion. Inadequate training for this will lead to pain, weakness, loss of power, and loss of precision with serving and spiking. Physical therapy may help the athlete by identifying holes in their training that should be addressed to ensure adequate strength and stability, but sometimes, simply resting the shoulder is the best course of action. 

5. Wrist, Hand, and Finger Injuries 

The wrists, hands, and fingers of volleyball players are at risk of jamming, fracture, and dislocations due to impact from the ball, getting caught in the net, and collisions with other players. An injury to any of these joints should be assessed and treated immediately, especially if there is pain, swelling, discoloration, or loss of movement. Getting the wrist, hand, or finger injury looked at sooner rather than later is important to avoid long-term problems, pain, and deformities due to the complexities of these joints. 

6. Lower Back Pain

The repetitive jumping, twisting, and diving can take a toll on this crucial area. Strained muscles, ligament tears, and even stress fractures can send shockwaves of pain through your spine. Proper core strengthening exercises, maintaining good posture, and avoiding excessive strain are essential for preventing and mitigating lower back pain

How to Prevent Injuries in Volleyball

If you’ve experienced any of these injuries, you’ve probably wondered what can help in preventing volleyball injuries. Injury prevention programs for any sport involve strengthening, endurance training of muscles and the cardiovascular system, and improving body mechanics, and volleyball is no different.

Important elements in volleyball injury prevention include:

  • Proper warm-up & cool-downs
  • Gradual strength training of ankles, hips, core, & shoulders
  • Proper nutrition, hydration, & sleep
  • Rest or exercise modifications

How physical therapy can help

As the movement expert, physical therapists have the training, skills, and expertise to evaluate and assess the athlete as a whole, identifying and addressing any weaknesses or mechanics that need adjustments. Your physical therapist will develop an individualized plan for pain management, improved mechanics, and injury risk reduction.

Ready to get back on the court? Ivy Rehab Rehabilitation Physical Therapy is here for you every step of the way.

Article By: Anne Diaz-Arrastia, PT, DPT, OCS 

Anne Diaz-Arrastia, PT, DPT, OCS began her physical therapy career four years ago. Anne loves working with the active sports population and believes in the importance of providing individualized care that is specific to the activity and sport her patients love. She currently specializes in sports, orthopedics, vestibular, and concussion management. Anne enjoys working with patients of all activity levels and ages to help them reach their goals of living life just the way they envision. She currently treats patients at The Training Room in Haddonfield, NJ

The medical information contained herein is provided as an information resource only, and does not substitute professional medical advice or consultation with healthcare professionals. This information is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-provider relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or medical advice. Please consult with your healthcare provider before making any healthcare decisions or for guidance about a specific medical condition. If you think you have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. IvyRehab Network, Inc. disclaims any and all responsibility, and shall have no liability, for any damages, loss, injury or liability whatsoever suffered as a result of your reliance on the information contained herein.