After working the last three California Beach Volleyball Association (CBVA) tournaments of the summer, where I was able to treat some of the best volleyball players in the world, I have found some consistency in the nagging problems injuries that the players encounter.
The Shifting, Unpredictable Surface
The environment is a contributing factor to these challenges. Sand is an unstable and unpredictable surface. It offers little to no traction, and it is constantly shifting. Unlike other sports, most players play barefoot, so they have no support that athletic shoes offer.
Three Nagging Problems Beach Volleyball Players Face
Many players experience plantar fasciitis, which is the straining or inflammation of the ligament that connects your heel bone (calcaneous) to your toes (metatarsals). This caused by the player’s bare feet constantly seeking traction and the high-intensity and fast pace of volleyball, this multiplies the strain on the plantar fascia.
A second, related issue is tightness, straining and cramping of the lower leg. Bursts of speed, changing direction, and jumping put a tremendous load on the calf muscles. Because the sand is constantly moving out from under the feet, the calf muscles are working overtime to perform.
The third challenge it to the shoulder, specifically the hitting shoulder. I see a lot of rotator cuff tendonitis that is attributed to volleyball specific movements. Hitters rarely are able to hit the ball with the exact same swing consistently. Unlike tennis players who can maneuver themselves so that each swing is almost identical, hitters in volleyball must adapt to the changing wind, position of the sets, and the defenders on the other side of the net. Additionally, blocking requires a sudden change in velocity of the hand, arm, and shoulder. When defending at the net, a hitter’s hand can go from 60 mph to zero mph in a blink. Lastly, consider that the player also makes last second adjustments to place a kill based upon where the players are positioned on the court.
Tips to Beat These Challenges
Treatment for each of these is easily handled with conservative means involving loosening the tissues, stretching the surrounding areas, rest, and of course, ice.
For plantar fasciitis, there are three treatments that will reduce inflammation and loosen the fascia. First, rolling the foot over a golf ball while seated is extremely effective at relieving tight fascia. I recommend doing this daily for 3-5 minutes. Follow this with the second maneuver, stretching the calf muscle. Sit with the legs out straight and pulling the toes back with either your hands or a rolled up towel. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat three times, and then do the same thing on the other leg. Lastly, rolling the foot over a frozen 16-20 ounce water bottle for 5-7 minutes is the most effective way to ice the plantar fascia to reduce inflammation. Repeat this daily to make the painful plantar fasciitis a memory. To take unnecessary strain off of the area, I suggest wearing supportive shoes with good shock absorption and an arch support when not on the court.
To care for the calf muscles, a foam roll is your friend. Roll your calves over a foam roll either together or one at a time working the muscles from just above the ankle up towards the knee. This will work out the tightness in the calves as well as flush the toxins out of the area. Roll the calves for 5-7 minutes then stretch them as you would with the plantar fascitis holding the stretch for 30 seconds and repeating three times.
For painful volleyball shoulder, reducing muscle spasms and increasing range of motion will improve hitting and reduce the chances of a more serious injury. The most common problem areas are the rotator cuff, the upper trapezius, and levator scapulae muscles. The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that are located just behind the shoulder. The upper trapezius and levator muscles are located on the spine side of the shoulder blade and near the top of the back. These muscles are involved with nearly every movement of the shoulder. If you have sustained a considerable shoulder injury you might very well need to look into frozen shoulder surgery.
To reduce the spasms in these muscles, a tennis ball can be used to work out the extremely tight areas of the muscles known as trigger points. Place a tennis ball all the way to the toe of a long sock and drape it over your shoulder so that the tennis ball rests just behind the shoulder, just inside of the armpit. Press the tennis ball against a wall and roll it back and forth to roll out the tight muscles and trigger points. Repeat this for the upper trapezius and the levator scapulae muscles. Roll these muscles out for 3-5 minutes on a daily basis. Stretch the rotator cuff muscles out by bringing the arm across your chest and pulling it with the other hand. You will feel the stretch of muscles and hold for 30 seconds and repeat three times. To stretch the upper trapezius and levator scapulae check out this video demonstration. Some people also choose to play alternate beach tennis games using equipment such as the best pickleball paddles to move muscles they normally wouldn’t
If you continue to experience pain or discomfort after employing these treatments, seek professional physical therapy help.