Written by Angelo Marsella MA, ATC, USAW | Partner I Director of Sports Medicine
Tennis is a worldwide sport and a favorite summertime activity that requires not only hand-eye coordination but complete body participation to run, position your body, swing, and hit the tennis ball. Unfortunately, tennis injuries can be a result of the high demands put on the body. Most injuries can be minimized or prevented by proper conditioning, proper technique, appropriate equipment, and seeking medical attention to treat injuries.
Learn more how you to identify and treat the most common tennis injuries while getting in a healthy workout.
1. Tennis Elbow
Lateral epicondylitis, commonly known as tennis elbow, refers to the inflammation of the tendons joining the forearm muscles to the outside of the elbow. This condition is similar to golfer’s elbow, but it occurs on the outside of the elbow rather than the inside. Tennis elbow is often the result of overuse, and while it can occur in non-athletes, it is common among athletes who play tennis and other racquet sports. Symptoms of tennis elbow include pain or burning on the outside of the elbow and weak grip strength. You may find that the symptoms are worse with forearm activity.
- Resting the elbow is key, along with use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce pain and inflammation.
- Elbow elastic support may help reduce the workload off of the elbow.
- Correct grip size and string tension to reduce stress on your elbow and shoulder.
- Correct size and weight of your racquet based on your needs and ability. A professional can help you to choose the right racquet.
2. Rotator Cuff Tears
The rotator cuff is comprised of four muscles and tendons that come together to provide stability and mobility to the shoulder. The rotator cuff can tear gradually, as a result of overuse, but can also result from an acute injury. Symptoms of a rotator cuff tear include pain, tenderness, and weakness in the shoulder, difficulty lifting the arm, and snapping and crackling noises while moving the shoulder.
- Physical therapy is the best nonsurgical approach, at first. These treatments focus on rebuilding strength and muscle.
- Cortisone injections is an option to discuss with your doctor, which will reduce inflammation and pain.
- Surgery is an option, if the nonsurgical approach is unsuccessful. This option of treatment should be discussed with a sports medicine doctor.
3. Back Pain/Stress Fractures
Stress fractures are a common injury because tennis serves require a combination of hyperextension (bending the back), side-bending and rotation of the trunk. This motion puts stress on the vertebrae in the lower back and can eventually cause a fracture in the portion of the vertebra. This can eventually result in a condition called spondylolisthesis, in which the vertebra shifts forward. Stress fractures are not always painful, but can result in pain in the lower back that gets worse with activity.
The surface you play on also has an impact on stress fractures. Hard tennis courts result in a much greater impact on the body. Each time you land on a hard court surface you increase your risk of stress fractures. Clay and grass courts are much softer which reduces stress on your body.
- Conditioning program focusing on strengthening the core and surrounding back muscles will help minimize back pain. Increasing both lower and upper body flexibility should also be incorporated in a treatment program.
- Warm up and stretch before playing.
- Try other low impact activities (alternative to tennis) like biking or swimming will reduce the chance of stress fractures.
4. Tennis Knee: Patellar Tendonitis (or Jumper’s Knee)
The patellar tendon attaches the kneecap to the shinbone and aids in the movement of the leg and supporting our weight when walking and jumping. It’s common for tennis players to place immense stress on the knee due to jumping and landing repetitively during the game. Landing on especially rough surfaces (such as cement or hard court) can lead to tennis knee or Jumper’s Knee. Tennis knee can cause pain and swelling, and the affected area can feel warm to the touch.
- Utilize the R.I.C.E principle (rest, ice, compression and elevation) to reduce any inflammation or pain in the knee.
- Light stretching exercises as well as a knee-strengthening program will help alleviate your symptoms and get you back on the court.
5. Ankle Sprains
Due to the multi-directional nature of tennis it is very common for tennis players to suffer from ankle sprains. Frequent running and jumping also can increase your risk of landing incorrectly and turning your ankle. Clay courts can pose a greater risk for an ankle sprain. Because the clay surface is softer, the side of your foot can dig into it more easily, resulting in a turned ankle. A sprain can cause pain, stiffness, and swelling in the ankle. The ankle is often unstable, and bruising can occur as well.
- Supportive footwear and ankle supports can reduce the risk of a sprain.
- Avoid uneven surfaces when playing tennis.
- Utilize the R.I.C.E principle 24-48 hours after injury will help reduce any pain or inflammation.
- Strengthen muscles in your hips, knees and ankles; will improve your balance that will help reduce future ankle sprains.
Talk to a physical therapist or athletic trainer about specific stretches, exercises and treatments that may help reduce injuries and keep you on the court!
If you, family member or friend is experiencing any of these tennis injuries, Professional Physical Therapy can help. As a patient, you can expect an individualized recovery plan, using state-of-the-art technology and practices to get you back to enjoying life. If you wish to consult with one of our skilled physical therapists, visit Professional Physical Therapy.