The NBA is searching for answers about common injuries using imaging studies

Certain companies that are invested in their employees' health, especially those involved in sports, may need to provide readily available healthcare and exams. Because athletes face a large number of injuries on a daily basis, professional leagues will sometimes pair up with specific facilities or medical device manufacturers to help monitor their players' injuries.

In some cases, these partnerships lead to having the medical manufacturer's devices on hand. In others, the partnership can lead to something that may be even better: a better understanding of the players' injuries through research. The aim of one such partnership is to "advance the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal positions among NBA players."1 As a result, the league hopes to promote health and wellness, lengthen careers and reduce injuries.

Why does research matter?

Research may help to better understand common injuries, such as how they occur and treatment options. For example, one of the common injuries in basketball, both at a professional and amateur level, is tendinopathy. In order to study tendinopathy at all levels, the researchers may need to study it longitudinally in order to understand the short-term and long-term effects.

Tendinopathy includes multiple conditions occurring in and around the tendons in response to overuse. Tendinopathy includes tendinitis and tendinosis. In many case, tendinopathy may not be effectively treated by nonsteroidal antiinfammatory medications (NSAIDS), though this is the traditionally preferred treatment alongside physical therapy.2 So, research into the injury may help to prevent and more effectively treat it.

What are some common basketball injuries?

Tendinopathies are not the only common basketball injuries. Because of the nature of basketball, many of the common injuries involve the lower half of the body.3 With all of the jumping and running, this isn't a big surprise. However, other injuries can occur to the hands and fingers.

In the lower limbs, sprains, strains, ligament tears and tendonitis are common.3 Each provide their own challenges to the players. Sprains and strains are often mixed up by patients, because they are sometimes used interchangeably. Sprains refer to an overstretching or tearing of ligaments, while strains refer to the overstretching or tearing of tendons. Technically, ligament tears are classified under sprains, but one type of ligament tear in particular is especially common in basketball players: anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears. Tendonitis refers to an overuse injury that causes inflammation or irritation of the tendon or its covering.

In the hand, injuries to the fingers are common in basketball. Anyone who has ever played basketball for a long period of time knows that jammed fingers are rather common. This is typically due to the force of the ball hitting your finger, usually on the tip. Jammed fingers may be a type of sprain, and they may require medical treatment if the symptoms do not improve.4

What sort of tests are being conducted?5

When the research program was announced, the NBA was looking for research into three different categories: tendinopathy, acute myotendinous injuries (including muscle strains, tears, ruptures or pulls) and bone stress injuries. Research into each category is also being conducted outside of the agreement with the NBA.

For these three categories, a number of imaging studies can be conducted to learn additional information. Among these studies, ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging are the most common. Both imaging method provides information about different structures of the body.

Ultrasound, sometimes referred to as US, imaging uses sound waves to produce its images of the inside of the body. It does not use ionizing radiation and helps to determine abnormalities. This exam is completed using a gel placed on the skin, the machine that emits the sound wave and interprets the data, and a probe (called a transducer). It is also referred to as sonography.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a scanner with a super-conducting magnet inside of it. Like ultrasound, MRI does not use ionizing radiation. The patient lies on the patient platform, which is then moved into the bore, or hole, of the machine. The technologist then uses pulse sequences to change the magnetic field. The protons in the patients body then align to the pulses and relax, which produces signals that coils placed near the body then transmit to the computer. The images are produced when the computer processes the data.

Collaborations with the National Basketball Association have opened the door for important research. Many of the injuries that are common among basketball players have yet to be fully understood, allowing for ample research into the causes and prevention. This has the potential to help basketball players of all ages and level stay healthy and active. With the help of these studies, doctors may be able to provide advice on how best to avoid these injuries to their patients.


  1. NBA and GE Healthcare collaborate to promote orthopedic and sports medicine research to benefit NBA player health. NBA Communications Last accessed July 23, 2019.
  2. Treatment of Tendinopathy: What Works, What Does Not, and What is on the Horizon. Clin Orthop Relat Res Last accessed July 26, 2019.
  3. Is It a Sprain or a Strain? Tips for Identification. Healthline.com Last accessed July 26, 2019.
  4. Jammed fingers. ASSH.org Last accessed July 26, 2019.
  5. Call for Proposals. gex.brightidea.com Last accessed July 26, 2019.