Basketball & the Skeletal System

African man holding basketball

Basketball is fast paced game requiring quickness and agility. Because of the game's reliance on short runs with quick starts and sudden stops, and the use of frequent jumps on either hardwood indoor courts or paved outside surfaces, tremendous stress is placed on the bones and joints of the lower skeleton and back. Regular participation in basketball results in specific training adaptations to these skeletal structures.

Bone Function

The human skeleton consists of 206 individual bones anchored to one another with tough fibers of connective tissue called ligaments. Each bone consists of a population of living cells surrounded by a hard, dense calcified material called matrix, which gives bone its strength and rigidity. One of the cell types found in bone is the osteoblast, a cell that continually produces new bone matrix while other cells, called osteoclasts, degrade bone matrix. In a normal, healthy person, the rate of osteoblast bone matrix production equals the rate of osteoclast bone matrix removal and, although bones are continually renewed and remodeled, there is no net gain in bone mass. If osteoclasts work faster than osteoblasts, bone mass and density are lost leading to the condition known as osteoporosis.


The ligaments, which bind bones together into a single skeletal system, are composed of parallel strands of tough connective tissue fibers called collagen and living cells called fibroblasts. Fibroblast cells synthesize the collagen fibers and when fibroblast activity is increased, additional collagen fibers are produced and ligaments become stronger.

Joints Allow for Movement of the Skeleton

The complex movements that are performed in sports such as basketball require extremely flexible joints between adjacent bones in the skeletal system. This type of freely movable joint is called a synovial joint, and contains several important structures. Articular cartilage covers the opposing ends of the two bones in each joint and acts as a teflon-like coating to allow the bones to glide against one another. This action is lubricated by a thick, slippery fluid, the synovial fluid, which is produced within the joint. All of this is encased in a thin membrane and a sheath of tough connective tissue ligaments.

Basketball's Effects on Bone

As a weight-bearing activity, the forces placed on bones through the actions of running and jumping stimulate the osteoblast cells to increase their rate of production of new bone matrix. As a result, both bone density and bone mass increase, particularly in the bones of legs, pelvis, and spine. Additional forces are placed on the bones of the shoulders and arm through the pushing and pulling action of the muscles used in catching and throwing the basketball.

Basketball's Effect on Ligaments and Joints

The stresses placed on the joints of the body in running, jumping, catching and throwing all work to stimulate fibrobast cells to produce additional collagen fibers and serve to strengthen the ligaments supporting the joints. In addition, these stresses stimulate the production of additional synovial fluid ensuring that the joints are properly lubricated.

Skeletal Injuries

Participation in any sport or exercise activity may also result in occasional injury. Among the more frequent skeletal system injuries that are associated with basketball are stress fractures in bones of the lower leg, fractures of the hands, fingers and ankles, ligament damage which most frequently occurs in the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) of females, and Achilles tendon injuries. Proper training and the use of appropriate equipment can reduce the risk of injuries.