As Wimbledon is now well underway, and I have a keen interest in tennis, (I was once Lancashire Champion I’ll have you know!), I aim to highlight the main injuries amongst tennis players.
The injury most heard about is “tennis elbow”. This is an overuse of the muscles that extend the wrist or bend it backwards. It is also the muscle most used when the tennis ball impacts the racquet. Correct strengthening of this muscle and other muscles around it – 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 (either too wide or too narrow) and the correct technique (a smooth rhythmic action) can also help prevent this condition.
Shoulder injuries are usually due to poor conditioning and strength of the rotator cuff muscles. The rotator cuff helps to position the shoulder properly in the shoulder socket. 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. Flexing and extending the wrist against light resistance using an exercise band (three to four times a week) may help lessen pain and decrease injuries.
Twenty percent of junior players suffer stress fractures, compared to just 7.5 percent of professional players. Stress fractures are the result of increasing training too rapidly. When the muscles tire, more stress is placed on the bone. If this occurs too quickly, the bone cannot adjust rapidly enough to accommodate the stress, ultimately resulting in breaks. These “breaks” are usually cracks in the bone, causing pain rather than an actual break or displacement of the bone. Stress fractures can occur in the leg (tibia or fibula) or in the foot (the navicular or the metatarsals). These injuries are preventable with correct strength and endurance training prior to extensive tennis playing. Appropriate footwear is also critical to preventing stress fractures.
Muscle strains usually occur from quick, sudden moves (thrusting for example). A good warm-up, in particular groin stretches, followed by correct stretching can help.
Correct stretching should be slow and deliberate, improving stimulation. Do not bounce to stretch; hold the stretch for 30 seconds or more. The best stretches are moving stretches, such as, swinging your leg as far forward and backward or swinging your arms in circles and across your body. Correct stretching should last at least five minutes. If you have any concerns about an injury or how to prevent future injuries, speak with a physiotherapist or use our ‘Ask an Expert’ service.
Kate Franzke (Chartered Physiotherapist)