Playing basketball at the highest possible level takes a toll on the body. All the running, jumping, and sudden stops and starts put a great deal of stress on the knees. Now, if you do all these to your body playing pickup basketball thrice a week, imagine what NBA players go through playing and practicing almost every day from training camp in July until April next year!
That said, if you have followed the NBA long enough, you may have noticed players icing their knees on the bench. But why do NBA players ice their knees? Does it have a positive effect somehow? Before answering these questions, learn more first about the most common knee injuries among NBA players.
NBA Players’ Knee Pain and Injuries
The knee is the body’s biggest joint, linking the upper and lower legs as well as supporting the weight of the upper body. It takes the brunt of the body’s weight; in fact, experts say a human’s body weight is felt four to five times more in the knee than in any other joint.
If that’s the case, it’s no wonder why NBA players almost always face knee issues at some point in their careers. Here is the breakdown of the most common pain and injuries on the knee:
- Sprains and strains. Basketball always involves abrupt movements causing knee sprains and strains. Knee sprains are typically caused by overstretching of the ligaments in these body parts, while strains occur in tendons. Both injuries feel better with ice, but more often than not, they require medical and professional help.
- Jumper’s Knee. Jumper’s knee is the inflammation of the patellar tendon; hence, it’s also called patellar tendonitis. Unlike a knee sprain or strain, this injury often subsides without surgery.
- ACL or MCL tears. Ligaments are fibrous bands that connect bones and may tear because of excessive use. Some ligaments are torn when a basketball player comes to a sudden stop, leaps with the wrong foot, or changes directions abruptly. Ligament injury caused by these actions and circumstances may result in discomfort and swelling. In extreme cases, the injured player could not stand, walk, or run.
The knees are truly susceptible to injuries. Knee issues are among the most common injuries and missed games by NBA players. Because of the prevalence of knee injuries and the lasting effect on the knees, deteriorating knees affect practically all players.
It has ended and cut short promising careers, as seen in the cases of Brandon Roy, Bill Walton, and Greg Oden. Chronic knee pain is one of the first signals that a player’s time in the league is coming to an end. Also, NBA players mostly began intense training and games at a young age, so injuries from overuse is a long time coming.
Why Do NBA Players Put Ice on Their Knees?
Now, to the million-dollar question, why do NBA players put ice on their knees? NBA players ice their knees to alleviate knee discomfort, whether that’s pain or swelling. The cold from the ice reduces blood flow, leading to decreased swelling and soreness.
Icing the knees can be accomplished by setting an ice pack on the knees or by immersing them in a bucket of ice. The latter is more popularly known as an ice bath. Ice packs are used if the trainers have to ice the players’ knees from the bench, whereas ice baths are more of a locker room or household therapy.
But does icing the knees really effective in managing knee pain and swelling?
What are the Benefits of Using Ice on Your Knees?
The benefits of icing your knees are numerous, especially if you have recently experienced an injury or suffer from conditions such as tendonitis. Applying ice to your knees can help reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation, which are common symptoms of these conditions. Additionally, it can help to speed up the healing process and prevent further damage to the affected joint.
One of the primary benefits of icing your knees is pain relief. The ice’s cold temperature helps numb the area and reduce nerve pain signals, providing temporary relief and making it easier to move the affected joint.
Another advantage of icing your knees is that it can help reduce swelling. Applying ice to your knee causes the blood vessels in the area to constrict, decreasing blood flow and limiting the amount of fluid that accumulates in the joint. By reducing swelling, icing helps improve the range of motion, allowing the player to perform daily activities or even strength training.
Despite their increased popularity, there is still uncertainty about how beneficial ice packs are to knee injuries. In principle, icing knees helps because it regulates blood flow. However, experts are becoming increasingly unsure whether icing knees are advantageous and are now claiming that icing knees have a long-term disadvantage. Therefore, it’s still best to approach any knee injury with caution and anyone experiencing it should not rely on ice packs alone.
How Long Should You Ice Your Knees?
One of the main concerns about icing knees is that the player may lose consciousness of time and leave the packs for hours. That’s precisely what happened to a young NBA player in the 90s named B.J. Tyler. Tyler reportedly fell asleep icing his knees, and it resulted in severe nerve damage and cutting his NBA career short.
So, while icing knees for basketball has its benefits, it’s very important to know how long you should leave the ice packs on. The rule of thumb is to put it on for 20 minutes and off for 20 minutes. This is known as the “20 on and 20 off” rule.
You may apply ice on the knees several times a day, but this rule should be enough to prevent tissue and nerve damage. It is best to ditch the ice packs altogether when you experience redness or swelling well before the 20-minute limit.
Is it Good or Bad to Ice the Knees After Basketball?
When Kobe Bryant was in the middle of saving the Lakers from the brink of disaster in the 2012-13 season, he tweeted a picture of his legs soaked in an ice bath. In reality, research has been mixed whether icing the knees or any part of the body, for that matter, is good or bad. Remember that each person’s body chemistry is different, which causes different individuals to respond differently to treatment or therapy.
With that in mind, the best recourse, for now, is to use ice packs or ice baths responsibly until more research is available one way or the other. The use of ice shortly after physical exertion, particularly to relieve inflammation, as in a basketball player’s knees after a game, has inevitable detrimental consequences. The cold may impede the body’s natural healing reaction.
One way you can use ice therapy without interfering with the body’s natural healing response is to do it quickly. The University of Alabama Crimson Tide has been doing this for their sports teams and had positive results. Players who just came from practice will just slide off an ice tub quickly to lower their body temperature and then gets off.
Wrapping Things Up: Why Do NBA Players Ice Their Knees?
The knees are one of the most hardworking joints in the body as it carries the entirety of the weight. It is said that the knee feels four or five times the impact of the body weight. Therefore, it’s no surprise that knee injuries are the most common in sports, especially basketball.
Speaking of knee injuries, icing the knees is one of the most basic forms of sports therapy. NBA players ice their knees after every practice or game and you mostly see them do it on their bench. Some, like the late Kobe Bryant, frequently take ice baths.
But the real question is, why do NBA players ice their knees? It’s because, theoretically, the cold encourages healing, constricts the nerves, and lessens swelling in the joint area, as long as the player doesn’t overdo it. Icing the knees or any part of the body for more than 20 minutes at a time could cause tissue and nerve damage. Because science and research have not provided a conclusion on the matter, using ice packs or taking ice baths is here to stay.
We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.
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