The US Open Tennis Championship is underway, and all eyes are on Serena Williams as she tries to become the first player in 27 years to win a tennis Grand Slam!
While tennis is an exhilarating game for players and fans alike, many do not realize the extent of injuries that can be caused by playing this sport. Tennis injuries are extremely common, even for the pros. In fact, the third seed in this year’s tournament, Maria Sharapova just had to withdraw due to a lingering injury.
On paper, Sharapova would have been the highest-seeded player to face Williams before the final.
Learning how to identify, prevent, and heal tennis injuries is crucial if you want your game to be safe and successful. Here are some tips to keep you on the court or get you swinging again!
Preventing tennis injuries requires just a few simple techniques that can be worked into any tennis player’s training routine. Following these tips will significantly reduce the risk of injury:
- Stretch: Flexibility is important to every tennis player’s performance, and it is often overlooked. Stretch before and after every practice and game.
Here are some examples:
Place one arm across your body, and then hold it in place with your other arm. This stretch loosens up your shoulder, and gets you ready for practice. The longer you hold, the deeper and more effective the stretch!
Tennis Elbow Stretch
Extend your arm in front of you and point your fingers down, pulling the hand towards your body with your opposite hand. This stretch releases tension in tendons and ligaments in your elbow and prepares it for your set-winning backhand.
- Train Off the Court: Many tennis players, and athletes in general, believe that the exercise and skills they are practicing on the court are sufficient to reach their top performance. In reality, without training off the court, many tennis players cannot become well-rounded, strong athletes, which could result in major injuries during a game.
**Tip: Functional movement training, which includes lunging, sprinting, and weight transfer, and balance training are important types of conditioning that players should engage in outside of tennis. This training will help their footwork, core rotation, and ability to reach for tennis balls coming their way.
- Pick the Right Racquet and Shoes: Injuries in tennis are commonly caused by not using the correct equipment.
If a tennis player’s racquet does not have the correct grip or the strings are too tight, tennis elbow, among other injuries, could result. Shereen Tan, Certified Hand Therapist and the Clinical Director in Chelsea, advises players to “choose a grip size/racket that is comfortable. A grip that is too large will force you to squeeze the racket more tightly and tire your arm. At the opposite extreme, a small grip may cause you to whip the racket and eventually cause arm or elbow problems. Always give your racket a test run prior to playing a full match.”
Additionally, many players avoid buying tennis shoes, and use running shoes as an alternative. Tennis players need a shoe that supports the foot during the quick side-to-side movements or shifts in weight associated with the game. Buy a shoe that provides stability on the inside and outside of the foot and has ample flexibility in the sole beneath the ball of the foot.
Common Injuries and Healing Them
There are a few injuries in particular that most commonly affect tennis players. Always remember that if you experience one of these injuries during or after the game, you should never play through the pain. Instead, treat it properly and get back on the court when it is fully healed!
- Rotator Cuff Tendinitis: Rotator cuff tendinitis occurs in the muscles that start at the shoulder blade and connect to the upper arm bone. This injury is often caused in tennis by excessive overhead serving. It can be recognized by experiencing pain when the arm is raised over the head. If you notice this pain, first try to ice the affected area. If after a week the pain is still present, contact your physician or a physical therapist to discuss further steps toward recovery.
**Tip: Many incidents of Rotator Cuff Tendinitis are caused by serving with the arm at 90 degrees. Instead, tennis players should aim at holding their arm at about 135 degrees when serving, which will minimize the chance of injury.
- Tennis Elbow: Improper backhand technique can often result in tennis elbow. Buying the proper tennis racquet can decrease the risk of this injury. However, if there is still pain present in the elbow, the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) is a great way to heal it. If the injury does not improve over time, seek medical advice. Typically, physical therapy can also help tennis players rehabilitate the area and get back on the court.
**Tip: Do not hesitate to let someone, such as a coach or an athletic trainer, know when you are feeling pain. They should be able to provide you with the correct tips and exercises to avoid the problem.
- Lower Back Pain: Lower back pain is caused by running, jumping, and twisting while playing tennis.
**Tip: Try to avoid asphalt and synthetic courts and play on a grass or clay court instead. Seek medical advice, or speak with a physical therapist if pain persists, and try a soft tissue massage to release tension in the lower back.
Following these simple tips will help keep you injury-free as you step onto the court. If you DO experience pain or injury while playing, a knowledgeable Physical Therapist can provide you with a rehabilitation program to get you back in the game as soon as possible!
Shereen Tan, Clinical Director, Physical Therapist, and Certified Hand Therapist at Professional Pt in Chelsea
*Source: “Injuries on the ATP Tour.” TennisInsight.com. Web. 22 Aug. 2014. <http://www.tennisinsight.com/injuries.php>.