While not as high-impact as some other sports, tennis still comes with injury risks. These are just some of the most common tennis injuries and what you can do to prevent them.
COMMON TENNIS INJURIES
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 some researchers blame a poor backhand technique. 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.
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.
Because of the quick movement around the court when players are chasing down a ball, there’s always a risk of tearing the Achilles tendon. It usually happens because of a strong contraction of the calf muscle that stretches the tendon to the point of tearing or breaking. Players may hear a loud popping noise at the time their tendon ruptures. A previous injury might have weakened the tendon but not warming up properly and exercising in cold weather could also add to the risk of injury.
Stress Fractures in the Back
Because tennis serves require a combination of hyper-extension, or bending the back, and side-bending and rotation of the trunk, stress fractures are a common injury. This motion puts stress on the vertebrae in the lower back and can eventually cause a fracture in the portion of the vertebra called the pars interarticularis. This can eventually result in a condition called spondylolisthesis, in which the vertebra shifts forward. Stress fractures aren’t always painful, but can result in pain in the lower back that gets worse with activity. I’ve got stage 2 spondylolisthesis (out of 4 stages), and have been told that eventually I will need surgery. I only hope that I’ll be able to get back on the courts soon afterward.
Patellar Tendonitis (aka 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. Jumping, in particular, can put excessive strain on this tendon, and repetitive jumping, which is often a part of tennis, can cause microscopic tears and injury to the patellar tendon. Patellar tendonitis can cause pain and swelling, and the affected area can feel warm to the touch. Jumping, kneeling, and walking up and down stairs can increase the pain.
It’s very common for tennis players to suffer from rolled ankles and sprains. Because tennis can be a fast-paced game, a sudden sideways motion can cause the ankle to twist, stretching out or damaging one of the ligaments in the ankle. A sprain can cause pain, stiffness, bruising and swelling in the ankle. Repeat sprains can lead to weak ankles.
PREVENTING TENNIS INJURIES
Make sure you have the right gear
Choose a tennis shoe with good support to help you prevent ankle injuries. You can also wear two pairs of ankle socks, which have extra padding to help support your ankles. Make sure your racket has the correct grip size and string tension to reduce stress on your elbow and shoulder. You should also pay attention to the size and weight of your racket, as well as string tension, based on your needs and ability. A professional can help you to choose the right racket and strings.
Pay attention to your technique
Try not to arch your back too much when serving. Balance your upper body weight by bending your knees and raising your heels instead. Also, be careful not to land on the balls of your feet while jumping, as this could result in an ankle injury. Try working with an instructor who can help you with your grip and improve your stroke technique.
Warm up and do strength-building exercises
A good warm up before a game can help to lessen your chance of injury and improve your game. Core and shoulder-strengthening exercises can also help to prevent injuries from serving.
If you are overweight, or you prefer the couch to the gym, you will be more prone to all of the above injuries. You should consider adopting an exercise program to help strengthen all your muscles — especially your core — and to lose some weight so that your knees aren’t having to absorb so much impact. Be sure and check out our food section for some delicious healthy recipe ideas, and our fitness section for some great exercise tips and videos.
Take time off the court
You may think that you need to practice as much as possible to improve your game, but playing too much can make you overexert yourself — especially if you’re new to the game or not in the best of shape. Your body needs time to recover between practices and matches, and overexertion can affect how well you play and make you more susceptible to injury.
Keep these tips in mind, and you will not only lower your risk of injury, but may also improve your game.