Like any contact sport, volleyball can be the cause of a number of sports related injuries. With the strategic serves, spikes and setups, it’s not surprising that most volleyball injuries involve the hand, wrist and fingers.
While some injuries come with an easy fix, many take time with targeted treatment and rest from play to fully heal.
A case study of 226 women volleyball players between the ages of 15 and 29 revealed that the most common injuries were strains and sprains in the hand and wrist. Fingers were involved in 44% of these cases. (1)
Most Common Volleyball Related Injuries
Some of the most common volleyball related injuries include Gamekeeper’s Thumb, Mallet Finger, wrist sprain and various kinds of hand fractures and broken or jammed fingers.
Gamekeeper’s Thumb involves the ulnar collateral ligament, which is made of tough fibrous tissue and connects the bones at the base of the thumb. Problems begin when, over time, this ligament is stretched and loosened from repetitive stress. Common symptoms include pain and swelling at the base of the thumb. Patients may also have trouble gripping and picking up objects. Treatment is determined based on age and severity of the injury – and may entail a cast or a modified wrist splint (Thumb spica), which is worn for four to six weeks if the tear is partial and the thumb is not too loose.
If the tear is complete or the patient is unable to perform daily tasks, surgery may be indicated. Surgical intervention is usually most effective when performed relatively soon after the injury occurs. During the procedure the torn ends of the ligament are repaired. Recovery time is about four to six weeks, but athletes usually will not be able to play competitively again for three to four months following surgery. (2)
Mallet Finger is when the fingertip is bent and cannot be straightened. It is caused by the rupture of a tendon at the base of the finger joint near the fingertip. Symptoms include pain, swelling, bruising, misalignment of fingernails, weakness in the area, inability to pick up objects, and reduced range of motion. The common treatment involves splinting the finger in a straight position for several weeks.
The common broken hand happens often either by a direct hit or falling on it wrong. The hand is made up of 27 bones, including the wrist, which are all at risk of a break. Depending on the severity of the injury and if any cuts are present, the patient might need stitches. A cast is worn for about 8 weeks to allow the bone(s) to heal. Pain medication is usually prescribed as well.
Another very common injury in volleyball is wrist sprain. This typically occurs while trying to catch oneself when falling or when twisting/distorting the wrist when hitting the ball. The ligaments connecting the wrist and hand bones are stretched, resulting in tiny tears or a complete ligament break. Symptoms may include pain, swelling, and warmth in the affected area. A wrist sprain may be diagnosed by an X-ray and physical exam as well as an MRI. Treatment options usually include rest and cold compression. Depending on severity of the injury, a splint may be recommended for a few weeks. During recovery, stretching and strengthening exercises as part of a hand therapy program are crucial.
Both Distal Radius and Scaphoid Fractures are common in athletes. Distal Radius fractures are among the most common type of fracture and often simply referred to as a broken wrist. Distal radius fractures can represent several different types of fractures (Colles, intra-articular, extra-articular, open, comminuted). This type of fracture occurs when the radius, the larger of the two bones that make up the forearm, breaks at the farthest part of the bone near the wrist or distal end of the forearm. The bone breaks on the end where it connects to the hand and wrist. Occasionally the wrist may need to be reset and is often done so while under anesthesia. A splint may be used for the first week until the swelling goes down, followed by a cast for anywhere from six to eight weeks.
Regular X-rays are needed to ensure that the bone is healing properly. It is also helpful to ice the area 20-30 minutes at a time several times a day, elevate the wrist, take pain medication, and practice stretching exercises as indicated by your doctor. Surgery may be recommended depending on the severity of the injury. This would include either an open reduction (setting of the bones) with internal fixation or possibly a closed reduction and pin or external fixation.
Scaphoid fractures, also known as navicular fractures, occur when there’s a break in the small bone on the thumb side of the wrist; most common break of the eight carpal bones in the wrist. It is important that proper diagnosis and treatment is received for this type of fracture as blood flow to this bone can be compromised, impacting proper healing and resulting in the early onset of osteoarthritis.
Jammed and Dislocated Fingers
Probably the most common injuries of all in volleyball are jammed and dislocated fingers. These occur when the bones of the finger are moved from their original location, usually the result of a hard impact or forceful encounter with the ball. It is most common in the middle knuckle of the little, middle, ring or index finger. Symptoms are an obvious “crookedness” in the finger, swelling and pain. Patients may also experience numbness or tingling, or the finger may be pale in color. Occasionally, a dislocation may cause a break in the skin. Treatment includes immediately icing after injury and a medical evaluation. A splint may be recommended or “buddy taping” the injured finger to the healthy one next to it.
Other Volleyball Related Hand and Wrist Injuries and Conditions
Some volleyball related injuries can occur over a period of time and may become worse without adequate time to rest and heal. These include Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Wrist Tendonitis, and deQuervain’s Tendonitis.
Bhairo NH, Nijsten MW, van Dalen KC, ten Duis HJ. Hand injuries in volleyball. Int J Sports Med. 1992 May;13(4):351-4.
Morgan WJ, Slowman LS. “Acute hand and wrist injuries in athletes: evaluation and management.” J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2001 Nov-Dec;9(6):389-400.
Korsh Jafarnia MD Houston, TX