Ultimate Frisbee: A Real Sport with Real Injuries

by Eli Reece

Ultimate Frisbee: A Real Sport with Real Injuries

For many, the pastime of frisbee is filled with memories of casually tossing the saucer shaped disc in the park for your dog or on the beach with friends, merely playing a relaxed game of catch. Sixty years have passed since Walter “Fred” Morrison applied to patent the flying toy on July 22, 1957, and the growth of the frisbee as an organized, competitive sport has been exponential.

Created in 1967 in Maplewood, New Jersey by a group of high school students, Ultimate Frisbee has evolved into a worldwide phenomenon, with club teams being created at universities around the globe. Don’t get it twisted: while this sport involves a “flying toy,” the athletic demands of Ultimate Frisbee are on the same level as more commercialized sports such as basketball and soccer. 

“Although it is traditionally characterized as a ‘limited contact’ sport, Ultimate Frisbee has one of the highest rates of reported injuries for club sports across the country,” says Daniel Laino, MD. This “limited contact” definition has led to the assumptions that minimal on-site professional medical coverage is needed and that playing Ultimate Frisbee is low-risk for injuries. 

What are some common injuries in Ultimate Frisbee?

The movements of Ultimate Frisbee combine the concepts of football, soccer, and basketball into one. The most common injuries are due to overuse and are primarily seen in the lower extremities like legs and ankles. While upper extremity injuries, such as shoulder injuries, are not as frequent, they still occur with throwing motions and the impact of diving to make catches. 

  • Knee injuries including strains, ligament springs, or ruptures are the most common.
  • Ankle injuries including strains and ligament sprains are the second most common.
  • Shoulder injuries such as trauma from a fall or a dive are also seen.

What are the causes of injuries in Ultimate Frisbee?

Players often play multiple games in succession, each lasting 60 to 90 minutes, with players constantly cutting, guarding, jumping, throwing, and diving. Many tournaments require the completion of six games in two days of Ultimate Frisbee, resulting in players running 5 to 15 miles in two days. Such a consistent level of activity in a short period of time can cause overuse and stress related injuries.

Although Ultimate Frisbee is a highly competitive and athletically demanding sport, it often has the stigma of being “easy” or less stressful on the body compared to other sports since it involves a “toy.”  This preconception leads to inexperienced players not being prepared for the intricate movement of the sport, increasing their risk for injury.

How can I prevent Ultimate Frisbee Injuries?

  • As with any athletic activity, a warm-up and stretching period should be completed before playing.
  • Ultimate Frisbee requires significant amounts of stamina. Preseason and in-season strength and conditioning is highly recommended.
  • Proper landing techniques can dramatically decrease the risk for injury. Your knees should be behind your toes, and your feet should land softly to allow the muscle to absorb the impact.
  • Proper cutting techniques also can significantly lower the risk of injury. When cutting, or swiftly changing direction, you should use your outside leg to push you into the opposite direction.