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Volleyball is an increasingly popular and competitive sport. The success of both the men's and women's U.S. Olympic teams in the 1980s sparked a volleyball boom on courts and beaches across the country. Competitive beach volleyball is now a professional sport for both men and women. The level of play of competitive volleyball is far removed from the backyard games of yesteryear. With bodies flying in the air and collapsing onto the court, competitive volleyball is a sport with a fairly high injury rate. The stress on the arm from spiking the ball while up in the air and the constant bending of the back and knees also cause overuse injuries.
Like any jumping sport, volleyball leads to back strains from the pounding the back takes as a player comes down. Volleyball players also arch and twist their backs to go up for spikes and then uncoil to violently whip through the ball. This also can lead to lower-back muscle strain.
Volleyball players need to develop their back muscles to help stabilize the spine. A back exercise program is important, incorporating both extension and flexion exercises from Chapter 7. Persistent back pain that does not respond to a lower-back stretching program should be checked by a doctor.
Like any sport that brings the arm up over the head, volleyball has its share of rotator cuff injuries. The little rotator cuff muscles that hold the shoulder joint together can become stretched. This allows the head to slip within the shoulder socket and pinch the biceps tendons where they come through the joint.
This is a very common injury in volleyball because of the overhead position of the arms in blocking, serving, and spiking. The force of an oncoming volleyball against the hand in a block transmits tremendous shock to the shoulder joint. And no other athletic skill is quite like the spike. You must hit the ball as hard as you can over the net while in midair. You don't have the advantage of using the floor, as you do when throwing, so you must bend and twist your body in the air to help generate the power that can deliver 100 mile-per-hour spikes. Whipping the arm through the ball while in the air for a spike or a jump serve can strain the rotator cuff muscles. I highly recommend following the shoulderstrengthening program in Chapter 6 during the off-season to prevent this all-too-common injury.
Finger fractures and dislocations occur often in volleyball due to the impact of the ball at a fairly high speed. All of these injuries need to be seen by a doctor and x-rayed. Buddy-taping a broken or dislocated finger to the finger next to it may be all that is required to protect it.
A direct blow to the end of a finger from a volleyball may cause a "jammed" finger, in which the cartilage on the end of the bone is damaged and the ligaments that hold the joint together are stretched. Or it may lead to a form of "baseball finger," in which the tendon on the top of the finger is ruptured, causing the tip of the finger to droop.
Jumper's knee is a familiar injury to volleyball players. Jumping from a crouched position to block or spike the ball causes the quadriceps muscles to contract with great force as they straighten out the knee. Either the kneecap, the quadriceps tendons, or the patellar tendon can become inflamed from the repetitive, excessive force against them, causing pain. This will respond to the strengthening program in Chapter 11.
Volleyball players usually sprain their ankles from coming down on the side of another player's foot under the net. If the sprain is mild, use the usual RICE formula of Chapter 4, and then begin early range-of-motion and ankle strengthening exercises in Chapter 13. Treat your ankle right, and you will probably be back bumping and setting in a few weeks.
If the sprain is more severe, you should see a doctor and have it x-rayed.
All kinds of bumps, bruises, and fractures can result from diving or falling on the hardwood floor of a volleyball court. This is a hazard with all hard playing surfaces, but it is a particular problem in volleyball because of all the diving, rolling, and sprawling on the court. Players just learning how to dive are also liable to bang and cut up their chins, requiring stitches.
If the bruise is mild, just ice it until the swelling goes down. If the pain remains severe after icing, have a doctor take an x-ray to check for a possible broken bone.
Beach volleyball players, of course, have it easier since the sand is much more forgiving.
Popularized by Sinjin Smith and Randy Stoklos, beach volleyball is one of the fastest-growing sports today. Dozens of men and women now earn a living playing professional beach volleyball, not to mention the bonuses they receive from all those endorsement and modeling contracts.
Beach players suffer the same injuries as indoor players, except they don't have as many cuts and bruises due to the softness of the sand. However, they are prone to ankle sprains from turning an ankle on the sand's uneven surface.
They also have to worry about the heat and the sun. Make sure to drink plenty of liquids before and after playing beach volleyball. During play, stop every 15 minutes to have something to drink, either water or an electrolyte drink such as Gatorade.
You must also protect yourself against the sun. Wear a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. If you go into the water to cool off, put the sunscreen on again. Several companies now make special sports sunscreens, which supposedly hold up against sweat. I still recommend that you put sunscreen on lavishly and often during a day at the beach.
With only two players covering the court, and with the traction problems caused by sand, you have to be in great condition to play beach volleyball. Try to work out two or three times a week within your training range to improve your cardiovascular conditioning.
How to Improve Your Game
Power, which is a combination of strength and speed, is critical in volleyball. With all the fast, explosive movements that characterize the game, it may not seem as if volleyball players need to be strong, but overall body strength is quite important. You must not only develop your legs to help you jump higher, but you need to work your upper body as well to strengthen the back and shoulders. Training with weights during the season, as well as in the off-season, can help maintain your strength and power. And a stronger athlete is a more explosive athlete.
Strength training also helps prevent injuries. Strengthening the quadriceps, which extend the knee, and the hamstrings, which flex the knee, will result in a more stable, less injury-prone knee. A volleyball player must also have strong, flexible hips and back to withstand the stresses of the game. Do arching and back extension exercises regularly. The abdominal strengthening exercises in Chapter 7 are also important for supporting the back.
When you stretch after warming up, emphasize the lower back, hip flexors, hamstrings, groin, Achilles tendon, calf, and shoulders.
Exercises that mimic volleyball movements also are helpful. The deep jumps of plyometrics described in Chapter 17 develop your legs and your jumping skills.
To jump higher, you have to practice jumping as you would during a game. That means practicing your footwork for blocking and spiking and then jumping as high as you can. It's best to pick a high target, such as a basketball backboard. Jumping to a target is a lot harder than just jumping into the air. Notice how high you are able to jump, and try to jump this high 10 times in a row. Work your way up to at least four sets of 10 jumps, and you can increase your jump by two to three inches within a few weeks.