Water Polo

01 Overview

Water polo is a fast-paced aquatic contact sport that requires a high level of physical fitness. Teams with six players and a goalie attempt to throw a ball into the opponents’ net over four eight-minute periods. Men’s water polo has been a Summer Olympic sport since 1900, and women’s water polo was introduced at the 2000 Olympic Games. Water polo injuries can be both acute and overuse; common injuries occur to the shoulder, knees, and head.

(see Section 04 - Prevention)
Athlete silhouette
View Common Injuries by clicking the blue dots on the silhouette

Shoulder injuries are the most common injury among both male and female water polo players.

Knee injuries are the second most common injury for male high school water polo players. These can occur from the “eggbeater” kicking motion during water polo play, or from being kicked by other players.

Head injuries and concussions can occur in water polo due to the contact nature of the sport. Goalies are at an increased risk of concussion.

Although not common, eye injuries such as lacerations and corneal abrasions, and dental injuries can occur when players collide or a player is struck with the ball.

Cuts to the hands, and finger dislocations and fractures are common in water polo.

02 Injury Statistics

During the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, 13% of water polo athletes sustained injuries, with the majority occurring during competition. More women report sustaining a concussion at all levels of play and position than do men; at 43.9% of females as compared to 31.26% of males.

Curious about the research on injuries?

It is estimated that...

03 Risk Factors

Risk factors for injury in water polo include: sex, strength, technique, overtraining, level of experience, and playing in competition versus practice.

  • Sex

    The proportion of women reporting a concussion is higher as compared to men at all levels of play and position.

  • Technique

    Proper swimming technique in water polo requires the head to be up out of the water for prolonged periods of time, either while in possession of the ball or monitoring game play. Swimming with the head out of the water puts the elbows at a higher position relative to the body, requiring extension of the neck and shorter arm strokes. This technique places stress on the spine and shoulders.

  • Experience

    Elite athletes report the highest proportion of concussions in water polo.

  • Competition vs. Training

    Water polo players at the 2016 Summer Olympics reported higher injury incidence in competition compared to in training.

  • Strength

    Muscle strength imbalance caused by improper training increases the risk of shoulder injury.

  • Overtraining

    Taking a high volume of shots on goal during training or competition without adequate periods of rest for your body to recover and adapt can increase your risk of shoulder injuries in water polo. Overtraining can also increase the risk of knee injury.

  • Position

    Goalies are at an increased risk of concussion in water polo.

04 How can I prevent injury?

Some muscle soreness or joint pain is expected when increasing your level of physical activity. However, it is important to listen to your body for persistent or worsening pain, and to know when to rest. Learn more about how to prevent injuries in water polo.

  • Participant & Parent

    Talk to your coach or organization about the prevention strategies below and how they might be incorporated into training and policies.

    Strength Training and Neuromuscular Training Program

    The risk of all lower body injuries may be reduced by up to 50% by regular participation in a balance training exercise program with a resistance training component, such as a Neuromuscular Training warm-up program.

    Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    The Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre has developed a neuromuscular training warm-up program that can be adapted to many sports. Incorporating a warm-up program like this one into your training program at least two times per week has been associated with a significant reduction in lower body injuries 

    Click here to view poster.

     

    Get Set Neuromuscular Training
    The Get Set app contains exercises that can be done at home. Created by the Oslo Sports Trauma Center, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, and Making Waves AS in 2014 for the International Olympic Committee, the app allows you to search by body part to view exercises that work to strengthen each area of the body, or search by sport to view a library of exercises that are specific to water polo.

    Download Get Set for Android.

    Download Get Set for iOS.

    Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    Adopt strength training exercises designed to prevent injuries to the shoulder and knee. The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help reduce the risk of shoulder and knee injuries. This resource includes videos and PDFs for download.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent shoulder injuries.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent knee injuries.

    For more exercises, visit http://fittoplay.org/.

    Managing Concussion

    It is important to be aware of concussion signs and symptoms and know what to do if concussion is suspected. The Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT) is an online resource for participants and parents to learn more about how to recognize, prevent, and manage a concussion. CATT also includes resources on how to respond to a potential concussion situation, as well as detailed Return to School and Return to Sport protocol. 

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Goal-Shooting Workloads
    Encourage your coach to monitor goal-shooting workloads to reduce overuse injuries. Establish threshold limits for each member of your team rather than as a group to account for individual differences. Monitoring the number of shots a player takes during training may provide valuable insight into players at higher risk for injury.

    Additional Resources

    Equipment
    Using properly fitted protective personal equipment, such as mouthguards, while playing water polo can reduce your risk of injury.

    Sport-related Physicals
    Water polo is physically demanding and some pre-existing conditions may increase the risk of injury. An annual sport-related physical evaluation ensuring fitness to participate can help to reduce risk of injury. KidsHealth provides information about what sports physicals are, why they may be appropriate and where you may go to get them.

    Learn more about Kids Health Sports Physicals.

  • Coach & Teacher

    Talk to your organization or school about the prevention strategies below and how they might be incorporated into training and policies.

    Strength Training and Neuromuscular Training Program

    The risk of all lower body injuries may be reduced by up to 50% by regular participation in a balance training exercise program with a resistance training component, such as a Neuromuscular Training warm-up program.

    Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    The Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre has developed a neuromuscular training warm-up program that can be adapted to many sports. Incorporating a warm-up program like this one into your training program at least two times per week has been associated with a significant reduction in lower body injuries.

    Click here to view poster.

     

    Get Set Neuromuscular Training
    The Get Set app contains exercises that can be done at home. Created by the Oslo Sports Trauma Center, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, and Making Waves AS in 2014 for the International Olympic Committee, the app allows you to search by body part to view exercises that work to strengthen each area of the body, or search by sport to view a library of exercises that are specific to water polo.

    Download Get Set for Android.

    Download Get Set for iOS.

    Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    Adopt strength training exercises designed to prevent injuries to the shoulder and knee. The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help reduce the risk of shoulder and knee injuries. This resource includes videos and PDFs for download.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent shoulder injuries.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent knee injuries.

    For more exercises, visit http://fittoplay.org/.

    Managing Concussion

    It is important to be aware of concussion signs and symptoms and know what to do if concussion is suspected. The Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT) is an online resource for coaches and teachers to learn more about how to recognize, prevent, and manage a concussion. CATT also includes resources on how to respond to a potential concussion situation, as well as detailed Return to School and Return to Sport protocol.

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Goal-Shooting Workloads
    Monitor goal-shooting workloads in your players to reduce overuse injuries. Establish threshold limits for each member of your team rather than as a group to account for individual differences. Monitoring the number of shots a player takes during training may provide valuable insight into players at higher risk for injury.

    Equipment
    Using properly fitted protective personal equipment, such as mouthguards, while playing water polo can reduce your risk of injury.

    Facilities
    The Ontario Physical Education Association (OPHEA) provides recommendations for implementing water polo programs in secondary schools.

    Learn more about adding water polo to your school program.

    Additional Resources

    Sport-related Physicals
    Water polo is physically demanding and some pre-existing conditions may increase the risk of injury. An annual sport-related physical evaluation ensuring fitness to participate can help to reduce risk of injury. KidsHealth provides information about what sports physicals are, why they may be appropriate and where you may go to get them.

    Learn more about Kids Health Sports Physicals.

  • Official & Administrator

    Talk to your coaches, teachers, organization, or school about the prevention strategies below and how they might be incorporated into training and policies.

    Managing Concussion

    It is important to be aware of concussion signs and symptoms and know what to do if concussion is suspected. The Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT) is an online resource to learn more about how to recognize, prevent, and manage a concussion. CATT also includes resources on how to respond to a potential concussion situation, as well as detailed Return to School and Return to Sport protocol.

    Strength Training and Neuromuscular Training Program

    The risk of all lower body injuries may be reduced by up to 50% by regular participation in a balance training exercise program with a resistance training component, such as a Neuromuscular Training warm-up program.

    Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    The Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre has developed a neuromuscular training warm-up program that can be adapted to many sports. Incorporating a warm-up program like this one into your training program at least two times per week has been associated with a significant reduction in lower body injuries.

    Click here to view poster.

     

    Get Set Neuromuscular Training
    The Get Set app contains exercises that can be done at home. Created by the Oslo Sports Trauma Center, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, and Making Waves AS in 2014 for the International Olympic Committee, the app allows you to search by body part to view exercises that work to strengthen each area of the body, or search by sport to view a library of exercises that are specific to water polo.

    Download Get Set for Android.

    Download Get Set for iOS.

    Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    Adopt strength training exercises designed to prevent injuries to the shoulder and knee. The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help reduce the risk of shoulder and knee injuries. This resource includes videos and PDFs for download.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent shoulder injuries.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent knee injuries.

    For more exercises, visit http://fittoplay.org/.

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Officiating
    Much of the contact that occurs in water polo happens underwater, where referees cannot see. As a result, fouls can be missed and can lead to injury. Referees should encourage good sportsmanship and fair play; having a zero tolerance policy for extreme contact to the head may also reduce the rate and severity of concussion.

    Facilities
    The Ontario Physical Education Association (OPHEA) provides recommendations for implementing water polo programs in secondary schools.

    Learn more about adding water polo to your school program.

    Goal-Shooting Workloads
    Encourage coaches to monitor goal-shooting workloads in their players to reduce overuse injuries. They can establish threshold limits for individual member of the team rather than as a group to account for individual differences. Monitoring the number of shots a player takes during training may provide valuable insight into players at higher risk for injury.

    Additional Resources

    Equipment
    Athletes can use properly fitted protective personal equipment, such as Mouthguards, while playing water polo to reduce the risk of injury.

    Sport-related Physicals
    Water polo is physically demanding and some pre-existing conditions may increase the risk of injury. An annual sport-related physical evaluation ensuring fitness to participate can help to reduce risk of injury. KidsHealth provides information about what sports physicals are, why they may be appropriate and where you may go to get them.

    Learn more about Kids Health Sports Physicals.

  • Health Professional

    The role of health professionals in preventing water polo injuries has two main components:

    1. Providing ongoing education to players, parents, and coaches on effective injury prevention programs such as balance and resistance training; and
    2. Ensuring that injured players are completely healed and fit-to-perform before returning to water polo to prevent re-injury or chronic injury.

    Managing Concussion

    It is important to be aware of concussion signs and symptoms and know what to do if concussion is suspected.The Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT) is an online resource to learn more about how to diagnose and manage a concussion. CATT also includes resources on how to assess a potential concussion, as well as detailed Return to School and Return to Sport protocol.

    Strength Training and Neuromuscular Training Program

    The risk of all lower body injuries may be reduced by up to 50% by regular participation in a balance training exercise program with a resistance training component, such as a Neuromuscular Training warm-up program.

    Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    The Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre has developed a neuromuscular training warm-up program that can be adapted to many sports. Incorporating a warm-up program like this one into your training program at least two times per week has been associated with a significant reduction in lower body injuries.

    Click here to view poster.

     

    Get Set Neuromuscular Training
    The Get Set app contains exercises that can be done at home. Created by the Oslo Sports Trauma Center, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, and Making Waves AS in 2014 for the International Olympic Committee, the app allows you to search by body part to view exercises that work to strengthen each area of the body, or search by sport to view a library of exercises that are specific to water polo.

    Download Get Set for Android.

    Download Get Set for iOS.

    Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    Adopt strength training exercises designed to prevent injuries to the shoulder and knee. The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help reduce the risk of shoulder and knee injuries. This resource includes videos and PDFs for download.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent shoulder injuries.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent knee injuries.

    For more exercises, visit http://fittoplay.org/.

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Sport-related Physicals
    Water polo is a physically demanding sport and some pre-existing conditions may increase the risk of injury. An annual sport-related physical evaluation ensuring fitness to play can help to reduce risk of injury. The American Academy of Pediatrics provides information about preparticipation physical evaluation.

    Learn more about Preparticipation Physical Evaluation.

    Goal-Shooting Workloads
    Encourage coaches to monitor goal-shooting workloads in their players to reduce overuse injuries. They can establish threshold limits for individual member of the team rather than as a group to account for individual differences. Monitoring the number of shots a player takes during training may provide valuable insight into players at higher risk for injury.

    Equipment
    Encourage athletes can use properly fitted protective personal equipment, such as Mouthguards, while playing water polo to reduce the risk of injury.

    Additional Resources