Tennis is a great sport. However, tennis can cause injury to many parts of the body due to the high speed on racquet impact, repetition and use of your spine, legs and especially your dominant arm. This can predispose you to a variety of shoulder, elbow, wrist, knee, ankle, hip and spine injuries. Two-thirds of tennis injuries are due to overuse and the other one-third is due to a traumatic injury.
The best known tennis injury is tennis elbow but, despite it’s name, it is relatively uncommon in tennis players!
What are the Common Causes and Types of Tennis Injuries?
- Lower limb injuries (ankle, knee, and thigh) are the most common tennis injuries. They are caused by the sprinting, stopping, pivoting, jarring and pounding nature of tennis. Lower limb tennis injuries are acute (e.g. ankle sprain) or chronic (e.g. knee tendonitis).
- Upper limb injuries (elbow, shoulder, wrist) are usually caused by the high-velocity and repetitive arm movements required in tennis. These injuries tend to be overuse in nature (e.g. tennis elbow).
- Back injuries and pain are common due to the rotation required to hit groundstrokes, and the combination of movements involved in the serve.
The top 5 tennis injuries are:
1. Strained Ankle
Sprained ankles are relatively common in tennis players. Roger Federer, Andy Roddick and Andrew Murray have all suffered sprained ankles. The sudden sideways movements that are required during tennis can cause the ankle to twist, particularly if the surface is slippery or the player is fatigued. A twisted ankle causes damage to ligaments and other soft tissues around the ankle. This is called a Sprained Ankle. The damage causes bleeding within the tissues, which produces a swollen ankle that can be extremely painful. The best way to prevent an ankle sprain is to wear quality tennis shoes that have good support built in the outer counter of the shoe. An ankle brace is a strategy employed by professional players. In addition, the warm-up exercise will also help keep your ankle safe.
2. Shoulder Pain
Shoulder pain can occur in tennis players because there are repeated stresses during tennis strokes, particularly the serve. Shoulder overuse injuries are usually due to poor conditioning and strength of the rotator cuff muscles – a group of small muscles situated close to the ball-and-socket joint of the shoulder. The rotator cuff helps to position the shoulder properly in the shoulder socket and provides stability to the joint. When it is fatigued or weak, there is some increased “play” of the ball in the socket, irritating the tissues. The tendon or the bursa can become inflamed and hurt. This usually produces pain with overhead motions such as serving. If the pain persists, it can interfere with sleep and other daily activities. For tennis players attention must be paid to flexibility, strength and endurance of the shoulder muscles. Shoulder stabilisation exercises under the supervision of a qualified professional can also help prevent painful injuries to tendons. In addition, any increases in the amount of training or competition must be gradual so as not to overload the shoulder. In particular, repetitions of the service action should be increased gradually to allow the body to adapt to increased workload.
3. Calf (muscle) Strain
Muscle strains usually occur from quick, sudden moves. The calf muscle group consists of the Gastrocnemius, Soleus and Plantaris muscles, situated at the back of the lower leg. Their function is to pull up on the heel bone and these muscles are most active during the push-off when a tennis player has to move quickly to react to an opponent’s shot. A strain occurs when the muscle is forcibly stretched beyond its limits and the muscle tissue becomes torn. Diet can have an affect on muscle injuries. If a tennis player’s diet is high in carbohydrate in the 48 hours before a match there will be an adequate supply of the energy that is necessary for muscle contractions. However, if the muscles become short of fuel, fatigue can set in, especially during long matches. This fatigue can predispose a player to injury. Carbohydrate and fluids can be replenished during matches by taking regular sips of a sports drink between games. A good warm-up followed by proper stretching can help diminish muscle strains. The warm-up should include a slow jog, jumping jacks, or riding a bike at low intensity. Proper stretching should be slow and deliberate. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds or more. The best stretches are moving stretches, such as swinging your leg forward and backward or swinging your arms in circles and across your body. Proper stretching should last at least five minutes for each area of your body.
4. Tennis Elbow
The injury most heard about is “tennis elbow, which an overuse of the muscles that extend the wrist of bend it backwards. These muscles are most used when the tennis ball impacts the racquet. Overuse results in the inflammation of the muscles and tendons of the forearm as they attach to the humerus (upper arm) bone. This inflammation can also be caused by prolonged gripping activities such as hammering, driving screws, weight lifting, playing certain musical instruments, canoeing, digging in the garden, driving and, of course, racquet sports. Tennis elbow causes pain when the lateral epicondyle (outermost part of the elbow) is touched and also if the elbow is straight and the hand is moved forward and back at the wrist. The pain is exacerbated by gripping activities and in some cases simple things like turning a door handle can cause intense pain. Proper strengthening of forearm muscles, along with a regular warm-up routine, will help decrease the likelihood of experiencing tennis elbow. Paying attention to technical components such as grip size and good technique can also help prevent this condition. For those who have suffered from tennis elbow in the past it may be a good idea to wear a tennis elbow compression strap. They work by preventing the wrist extensor muscles (that run along the outer side of the forearm) from contracting fully, thus reducing the strain on the elbow.
5. Back Stress Fracture
A stress fracture of the back, or lumbar spine, is one of the more common bone injuries in young tennis players. Lower back stress fractures are usually characterised by an ache in the lower back which is exacerbated by sporting activities and eased by rest, although a small percentage of people with a stress fracture can be pain free. Typically it is sore when your bend backward, particularly if standing on one leg. If a lower back stress fracture is suspected, a doctor may decide to refer you for a scan to confirm the diagnosis. Serving in tennis requires a combination of spinal hyperextension (bending back) together with rotation and side bending of the trunk. This puts a lot of stress on an area of the vertebra called the Pars Interarticularis and this is where stress fractures develop. Practising serving should be carefully monitored by the coach to ensure that the lower back is not being overloaded. This is particularly important in adolescent players who have just experienced a growth spurt as they are known to be more at risk from this injury. Core stability exercises can help prevent back problems in tennis players.
If you are suffering with any of the above conditions or have pain elsewhere that is stopping you from enjoying your game of tennis,
give the Clinic a call as we can get you out of pain and moving well.
Now you know how to keep injury free, let’s play some tennis. To get you playing as quickly as possible I have listed 5 courts in Bedfordshire/Hertfordshire…
(All links open in a new window)
Langford Tennis Club: Are a small (but perfectly formed) friendly tennis club based on the Langford Playing Fields in the centre of Langford, Bedfordshire. The club is thriving with members who come from Langford and the surrounding area including Biggleswade, Broom, Campton, Clifton, Gravenhurst, Haynes, Henlow, Letchworth, Meppershall, Sandy, Shefford, Stanford, Stotfold and Wilstead.
Letchworth Sports and Tennis Club: Located in the centre of Letchworth Garden City, the Club welcomes players of all ages and abilities. The Club offers a range of racket sports, gym, studio, bar and shop and also welcomes non-members to use all the facilities with pay and play options available.
Hitchin Lawn Tennis Club: Is an independent tennis club that has provided a place for family-friendly tennis in Hitchin since 1920, run by volunteer members for members. They have Three all-weather, floodlit courts are available for play.
HBS Tennis Club: Is a Clubmark accredited, family-friendly tennis club based in the grounds of Hitchin Boys School in Hitchin, North Hertfordshire, UK. Their ethos is to be an open and fully inclusive tennis club for all ages and abilities. They aim to be the best value club in the area offering a fully comprehensive Junior & Adult coaching programme, social tennis events and competitive (league) team tennis to name but a few!
Riverside Tennis Club: Riverside LTC is Bedfordshire’s premier tennis club. Riverside Tennis Club boasts six all-weather and three carpet floodlit tennis courts and in winter, three courts are covered by an Air-Hall, allowing “Indoor” play.