Risk and Reward: The gamble of injuries during the season and the benefits of therapy



Athletes always risk injury while they play sports, even as they practice for competition. Teams like the St. Lawrence Vikings women’s basketball team losing four key members, a third of their roster, at the beginning of the year sparked a lot of conversation around injury in the OCAA, but they weren’t the only ones. Injuries are a part of an athlete’s life.

Maintaining top physical condition for play is what players have to do to keep themselves out of harm’s way. Avoiding injuries is a top concern not only for athletes but also their supporters. This includes their head coach, sports physician and the athlete’s therapists. These professionals encourage the athletes with their knowledge and skills.

Two teammates on the women’s basketball at the University of Toronto – Mississauga (UTM) had significant injuries in same game against St. Clair College.

“My injury was a high ankle sprain that damaged eight ligaments in my ankle. I was in a boot for two weeks,” says Ashley Beckles, member of the UTM Eagles. “I had to be wearing tape and a brace for another month or so, so I couldn’t run.”

She went up to catch a pass and as she caught the ball, she landed on a foot of another player and her ankle completely rolled.

“I didn’t realize how bad it was until the day after. Because I had sprained my ankle before, but I’ve normally been able to limp it off for a couple of days,” Beckles says.

Beckles had to be benched when she realized this was not a regular sprained ankle. She couldn’t run, play or help her teammates.

“So, I was sad and it took me a little while  because I was on crutches as well. I kind of felt sad for myself,” Beckles says.

Trisha Vo, another player with the Eagles, was also injured at the same time. Her injuries included a high ankle sprain and an inverted ankle sprain.

“I remember after I got fouled,” Vo says. “I got to go in and shoot the free throw for it, and 

then I looked at the head coach and I was like, ‘oh now I want to shoot this free throw and come off.’”

At the moment, she didn’t feel like anything was hurting. Vo says, however, it was tough after the game.

“Because I was scared,” Vo says. “I wasn’t going to be able to play for the rest of the season.”

“Sitting out is very hard to watch and not be able to do anything, me and Ashley were both in the starting lineup so just not being able to contribute and just sitting out the whole time is really hard. So that was the hardest thing about it but just motivating myself to get back and just to help, rather than just to sit out and feel like I’m useless.”

“Well the best way is to reduce, they can’t avoid, it’s part of sports,” says  Julia Allyne, a sports medicine physician at UTM. “But the best way to reduce their incidents of injury is to keep up their physical conditioning, to not play when they are fatigued, to have good nutrition, to ensure that they’re constantly getting coaching about their skill level, and to try and avoid strategies that are aggressive, and instead they use strategies that are smart.”

Allyne says treatment depends sport by sport because each sport has different injuries.

For examples, volleyball is a jumping sport there is a slightly higher incidence of stress fractures. Men have a lower incidence of stress fractures than women. In volleyball there’s much more shoulder and neck injuries because of the overreach. In soccer, much more knee injuries. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) happens in soccer a lot and is a critical injury for any athlete.

“Whenever a player is injured, the doctor and the coach and the player would discuss whether or not they were able to continue in practice or in competition,” Allyne says. “Generally, with an injury you would not participate in competition, but you may not modify your practice. Specific limitations depend on which joint, which muscle, which limb are injured, and what activities you are trying to do.”

She also says whether or not an athlete has to lose the season depends on the severity of injury or the healing time for an injury.

“For example, an injury that causes a rupture of a muscle, a ligament, or a fracture of a bone, that normally takes 16 to 20 weeks to heal. So, if they don’t have that much time left in their season, then they would have to be off for the season.”

Katie Wilhem, a certified Athletic Therapist at St. Lawrence College, says she is supporting student-athletes as a therapist.

“We treat them when they’re injured, and we do try to avoid injuries with pre-game taping and stretching and warm-ups and things like that to avoid injury in the first place,” Wilhem says. “Then, help decrease muscle imbalances and things like that to stop them from getting injured.”

She also says once they sustain an injury, she and other therapists treat them in the clinic to try to decrease healing time so that athletes can get back to their sport faster.

“I guess making sure that their body and their mind is where it needs to be. If they’re strong and balanced and their mind is in it, they’re less likely to incur an injury,” Wilhem says. “If they’re either tired or weak or distracted, then that’s sometimes when injuries can occur.”

According to Jean Lemoyne, Caroline Poulin, Nandia Richer and Andre Bussieres in The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association in 2017, “injuries are common among university-level athletes. This study revealed that competitive athletes sustained on average more than two injuries each year, with ankle, knee and shoulder injuries being most frequently reported.”

They also state in the study that the injury profile appears to differ depending on sport, with acute injuries being more common in team sports and overuse injuries in individual sports. The high prevalence of injuries among university-based athletes should be of concern to athletes, coaches and sport administrators as all have an important role to play in designing tailored injury prevention programs.

Salee-Marie Johnson-Edwards, a head coach of the women’s basketball team at UTM, says the most injuries  for players were ankle strain.

“Everybody wants the play obviously and so we would engage them in practices still,” Johnson-Edwards says. “They’d still be at practices and we would try to engage them as much as possible in practices whether that be helping out with score keeping or whether that be doing some form shooting if they’re able to, kind of be more mobile we gear their practices toward that.”

She also says that they have a couple of athletic trainers that are working with student athletes to do physic and rehab as well. In terms of basketball, their medical team gives players time off until their injuries allow them to play on the court. That may be a limited time in practices until they return to playing games. It could be limited time in workout or just watching from the sidelines. Each individual has different rates of progress and coaches monitor them accordingly.

Dr. Allyne says basketball players often get a subluxing patella, where they fell and their kneecap popped out of place. This means a very sore and swollen knee, an inability to bare the players weight, an inability to bend or flex their knee fully, and a loss of power in their quadriceps.

“Therefore, knowing that that was the injury, and that was the result of the injury, then the restrictions are going to be that they would have to use crutches, they would have a brace on their knee, they would not be able to run or jump,” Allyne says. “They could, in a sitting position, continue to do upper extremity strengthening. Not be able to practice in the same positions.”

“I just keep them positive,” Johnson-Edwards says. “I keep it light with them and I just try to remind them that everything happens for a reason and it’s a time I know it’s never fun to be sitting out but just to keep positive and stay ready and stay focused on the team aspect that way they feel like they’re part of the team then I let the other team know, or my other team members know to continue to engage them as well.”

“Everyone supported me from my friends at school, to my teammates, to the coaching staff, to the athletic therapists training me,” Beckles says. “Everybody wanted me to get back to playing my last game because I’m a senior, so this is my last season. Everybody was working extremely hard to get me back onto the court. That really motivated me. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I looked around and saw everybody who was cheering for me. So, I was really working hard in going through all the pain of the massages and the athletic therapy for them and for my teammates especially.”