As the wet Western and Southern Open continues, the already popular sport of tennis seems to get a real shot in the arm. It looks so appealing, so fun, like it’s not really exercise. But it is and while it’s a good thing to get out there and hit a few balls and run around the court and think you’re headed to professional status, it’s another to do all that the right way.
It’s also one of those sports that is widely enjoyed because it can be played well into your later years. So the work you do to perfect your game is, frankly, never wasted.
But tennis, like all activities, is far more fun if you know how to avoid the most common injuries.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, two-thirds of all injuries are the result of overuse, developing over time, while the rest are traumatic, resulting from a particular incident. The hamstrings, lower back, shoulder, and wrist are often victims of tennis injuries. The injury most commonly associated with the sport is “tennis elbow,” or lateral epicondylitis, which affects the muscles that extend the wrist or bend it backwards.
Nobody wants to get hurt, and there are many simple ways to prevent common tennis injuries. Below are five tips to help you stay well: core strengthening, proper equipment, warming up, adequate hydration, and resting.
1) Strengthen your core.This is key to preventing injuries in nearly all sports, and helps with your movement and shoulder motions on the court. For example, when hitting your serve and groundstrokes, players should use the chest muscles, rotator cuff, and muscles around the shoulder blade to generate power and better racquet handling. Instead of strengthening only the major chest and shoulder muscles (pectoralis, deltoid and trapezius), it is crucial to also strengthen the rotator cuff muscles.
Strengthening of these muscles is very important to prevent injuries such as bursitis or tearing of the rotator cuff. In addition, stretching your hamstrings usually puts less strain on your back. Squats with or without weights are a great exercise to work the abdominal muscles, quadriceps, and hamstrings. Wrist strengthening exercises several times a week with an elastic band may also help prevent overuse injuries. It’s important to strengthen and stretch the core muscles, not just the obvious ones.
2) Get the proper equipment. This includes clothing to adapt to the conditions, shoes with good support, and a properly sized racquet/grip. Shoes are important for comfort but also support your body as you run and twist to reach the ball. In addition to the right shoes, inserts may be worn to give the ankle more stability. This also helps prevent stress fractures of the foot.
The weight of the racquet and the size of the grip are very important for comfort. They also support proper technique, and the prevention of stress injuries to the wrist, elbow, and shoulder. Clothing to adapt to the weather conditions, especially in the summer, can help dissipate heat and prevent heat exhaustion and other heat-related illnesses.
3) Drink plenty of fluids. Proper fluid intakeis the best way to prevent heat exhaustion, dehydration, and cramping. This includes adequate hydration prior to, during, and even after playing. Most people don’t remember to drink fluids after their activity but it is important in muscle recovery and injury prevention.
4) Warm up. This doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. Often times, the tendency is to get to the court and start hitting the ball, especially if you are running late to a lesson or match. A proper warm-up is simple and necessary for preventing injuries. Stretching should be slow and deliberate, engaging all the muscles you’ll be using.
Something as simple as leg swings back and forth and swinging of the arms in circles and across your body will also help. A light jog or jumping jacks are a good way to warm up core muscles and joints. A proper warm-up should last about five minutes, but taking more time isn’t bad. Even when starting to hit your groundstrokes and serves, it is better to warm up with a proper slow technique. Start out lightly hitting the ball and then increase to normal speed and strength. Investing a few minutes in warming up can help prevent months of recovery from an injury.
5) Last, but not least, rest. You need to allow the body to heal. This includes stretching your muscles after playing and taking ample time off. Proper rest can include time off from playing or playing another sport that focuses on different muscle groups. Having a short duration of pain/aching after playing may be normal. Rest will allow your aches to heal; however, pain that lasts beyond your rest time or gets worse with playing should be evaluated by a health professional.
Please don’t fight through pain. Listen to your body, and try further rest or seek the care of a health professional, if resting isn’t enough.
You know, in my years as an orthopaedic and sports medicine doctor, I have seen countless patients who knew how to prevent injuries, but simply chose not to.
Knowing what to do is one thing, but taking action can be difficult. If you aren’t sure where to start, pick one or two injury prevention tips and begin there: Maybe it’s as easy as warming up and staying hydrated. Then you can add in a core strengthening routine, and buying the right equipment.
The important thing is taking action to keep your health and prevent injuries.
Jaideep Chunduri, M.D., is a fellowship-trained, board certified orthopaedic surgeon specializing in spinal surgery and management of spinal conditions at Beacon Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine. Dr. Chunduri returned home to Southwest Ohio and joined Beacon Orthopaedics in 2003. In addition to following tennis closely, and playing himself, he also serves as the medical director for the Beacon Orthopaedics Research and Education Foundation.