Tennis can be a demanding, injury-inducing sport. You throw your elbows and shoulders into serves and strokes. You stop and go constantly, and most recreational players pound their legs on hard surfaces instead of clay or grass. If you incur a tennis injury, you risk more than losing a few games. You could be sidelined from tennis and other sports for months. Luckily, recreational players who do not hit the ball as hard or as often as advanced and elite players have a lower risk of injury. But, some tennis players, no matter what their skill level, are prone to injury. So, whether you head out to the local courts occasionally or you are heading for the pro tour, here is what you need to know about the most common tennis injuries.
Tennis elbow is an overuse injury of the wrist extensor tendons that attach at the outside of the forearm near the elbow. The injury is painful and may or may not be accompanied by swelling. You may also be limited in how you can move your forearm.
Follow some of these tips to avoid tennis elbow:
Tennis players have more than just their elbow to worry about. Tennis can often affect several parts of the moving body.
Shoulder pain can be caused by a number of ailments, but the most common is rotator cuff injury. Serving is largely responsible for shoulder pain. Using the correct service motion is less likely to cause shoulder problems. Learning proper serving mechanics from a qualified instructor can help you avoid doing any damage to your shoulder. Also, before you sign up for tennis lessons, strengthen your rotator cuff muscles off the court. A few simple exercises with light weights, cords, or resistance bands will go a long way in helping you protect your shoulder.
Tennis players often experience low back pain. Back injury can come from twisting and rotating when trying to hit the ball. The hyperextension of the back during a serve is also a time when the back can be injured. The repetitive action can put considerable stress on the muscles, ligaments, and tendons around the spine. Also, the discs in the back can be damaged.
During your serve, it is important to keep your stomach muscle flexed while bending at the knees. Do not arch your back very much during the serve. Proper form will help prevent your back from injury. While you workout your rotator cuff muscles, add some exercises to strengthen your core and back.
Ankle sprains are common in sports and occur when you injure your ankle ligaments. This can happen when you accidently twist or turn your ankle.
The key to avoiding ankle sprain is to keep the muscles well-balanced, strong, and flexible. Balance exercises can also help. Take some time to warm up before playing tennis. Look around the surface to see if it is even and there are not any places where you can trip or twist your ankle. Wearing proper footwear is important. Make sure you have sneakers that are approriate for tennis and fit you well. If you feel pain or fatigue, slow down your pace, or stop completely. Remember to gradually build intensity to prevent overuse.
Many athletes experience hamstring problems, and tennis players are no exception. Hamstring muscles need to be flexible and strong. Warm up first with brisk walking or a slow jog. When you get your blood flowing, gently and slowy stretch. Keep your hamstring muscles strong by doing exercises.
A common knee injury in tennis is a meniscal tear. Basically, it is torn cartilage in your knee resulting in pain. You can reduce your chances of knee injury by taking the time to strengthen and stretch the muscles around the knee, like the quadriceps or hamstrings. Exercises that focus on the hips and knee joint will also help.
Playing tennis could lead to either a strain or tear of the Achilles tendon. Good flexibility is the best preventive measure you can take. Always warm up first before you start playing hard. When you land, try to avoid the ball of the foot. Work on increasing flexibility in that area on off-court days, too.
Perhaps the most important actions you can take to prevent injury in tennis—as in many sports—is being in good condition and engaging in a good warm-up before playing. Take several minutes to ramp up your heart rate with a slow jog or some jumping jacks. When you are ready, start to slowly stretch your muscles. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds. Take your time and do not rush the process.
Start playing slowly by hitting the ball with your opponent. Serve several times until the shoulder feels loose and ready for hard play. When the match is over, cool down your muscles with more stretching.
Good habits start before you hit the court. Make sure you are properly fitted for a racquet. This will help prevent wrist or elbow injuries. Support your ankle with the correct athletic shoes and supportive padded socks.
Take some lessons and learn the proper way to hit a forehand, backhand, or serve. Technique is the most important component of playing tennis and it goes a long way in helping you stay safe.
American Council on Exercise
American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Ankle sprain. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated September 19, 2014. Accessed January 2, 2015.
Basic knee injury prevention. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.acsm.org/access-public-information/articles/2012/01/10/basic-knee-injury-prevention. Updated January 10, 2012. Accessed January 2, 2015.
Kerkhoffs GM, Rowe BH, Assendelft WJ, et al. Immobilisation for acute ankle sprain. A systematic review. Arch Orthop Trauma Surg. 2001;121(8):462-471.
Lateral epicondylitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 5, 2014. Accessed January 2, 2015.
Sprained ankle. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00150. Updated September 2012. Accessed January 2, 2015.
Tennis and back pain. Spine Health website. Available at: http://www.spine-health.com/conditions/sports-and-spine-injuries/tennis-and-back-pain. Updated October 2, 2012. Accessed January 2, 2015.
Tennis elbow. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.acsm.org/docs/current-comments/tenniselbow.pdf. Accessed January 2, 2015.
Tennis exercises for beginners. Optimum Tennis website. Available at: http://www.optimumtennis.net/tennis-exercises-for-beginners.htm. Accessed January 2, 2015.
Tennis injury prevention. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00186. Updated September 2009. Accessed January 2, 2015.
Last reviewed January 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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