Treating the competitive volleyball player series, Part 1: An Introduction

Who’s been hyped up for the Olympics this year? I live for every 4 years (well, really every 2 because of the winter Olympics). Finally, other sports other than American Football, Basketball, Baseball, and Hockey will be featured for 2 weeks, and we get to see history being made.

This will be the first series of many to address athletes of specific sports. For those who don’t know me, I played volleyball in college and have coaching experience at the high school and collegiate levels – currently coaching at a local private school in Boston. USA volleyball is on the hunt for the ever elusive Olympic Gold, as they’ve finished with a silver medal at each of the last two Olympics, falling to 2 time defending champion and this year’s host, Brazil. So naturally, I am biased and picked volleyball as the first sport to address. However, having treated major league and collegiate baseball players and played soccer and ran track and field, you can expect these sports to be represented in the near future as well.

Volleyball players fall under the umbrella of “Overhead Athlete”, so if you would like more background on that, please refer to my 4 part series of “Treating the overhead athlete“. Naturally, volleyball players will present with shoulder injuries including but not limited to impingement, rotator cuff tear, labral tear, and scapular dyskinesia. However, due to the dynamic nature of the sport, lower body injuries also occur at a high rate including, but not limited to, ACL tears, ankle sprains, patellar tendinitis (jumper’s knee), ankle sprains, and patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS).

There are 6 basic skills involved in volleyball: serve receive forearm passing (bump, off of a serve), overhead passing (setting), hitting (spike), blocking, digging (a forearm pass that happens when you pass a hit), and serving. There are several positions in volleyball, and the athlete’s risk of injury is correlated to their position; setter, outside/right side hitter, middle blocker, and libero (back row specialist in the different color jersey).

Libero Dive
middle hitter slide
Middle Hitter – Slide
outside hitter
Outside Hitter
Setter jump setting

Front row players (hitters/middles/setters) have the highest rate of injuries. Middle and outside hitters not only put their shoulders at risk due to high repetitions, but upon landing, the impact on their joints (femoralacetabular, tibiofemoral, talocrural/subtalar) are at risk for injury. Setters may not have the high incidence of shoulder injuries as hitters, but they certainly can develop impingement and scapular dyskinesia due to their overhead arm position. And since setters on many teams play all the way around, they will be required to block at the net and are at risk for developing lower extremity pain/injuries.

Defensive players don’t usually develop upper extremity injuries, but can develop overuse injuries and tendinitis in their knees due to being constantly in a squat position. Hip injuries can also develop such as acetabular impingement, PFPS, and jumper’s knee. Not to mention, diving on the ground can lead to knee and hip bruises.

In the following 2 posts, I will divide the injuries into upper and lower extremity as well as dissect the injuries that develop, including WHY, and how you can assess your athlete.

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