It’s not surprising that tennis is such a popular way for people of all ages and abilities to keep fit and stay in shape. Not only is the game relatively low-impact, it also offers a whole host of physical benefits, including a great cardiovascular workout, improved balance, and stronger hand-eye coordination. However, as is the case with any sport, injuries can and do affect tennis players of all skill levels. Casual or beginner players are especially vulnerable to the category of injuries known as “overuse” injuries: these are usually caused by inadequate physical training or poor technique combined with the many repetitive motions that tennis involves.
Fortunately, while overuse injuries are common, they are also relatively easy to prevent. Read on for a look at three of the most frequently occurring tennis injuries, as well as some tips on what you can do to avoid them.
What is it?—Even if you don’t play tennis yourself, you’ve probably heard of tennis elbow. Officially known as lateral epicondylitis, tennis elbow develops when the tendons that connect your forearm muscles to the outside of your elbow degenerate and become inflamed. Symptoms of the condition include pain in the outside area of your elbow and pain when you make particular wrist movements.
How can I avoid it?—Because the forearm muscles are the ones you use when you extend your wrist or bend it backwards, they are impacted every time the tennis ball comes into contact with the racket. This means that anything you can do to strengthen these muscles and those around them, such as physical conditioning exercises and a proper warm-up routine, can help prevent tennis elbow. You can also try switching from a one-handed to a two-handed backhand to provide shorter-term relief for forearm muscle stress in your dominant arm. Finally, make sure you’re using equipment that is the correct size and fit for you, as muscles can easily become strained if you’re having to overcompensate for improper sizing.
Rotator cuff tendinitis
What is it?—The rotator cuff refers to the group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint, helping to keep the joint stable and allowing for movement in all directions. However, when the rotator cuff becomes fatigued, the ball of the shoulder joint starts to move around more loosely in the socket, which in turn irritates and inflames the muscle tissues and tendons. Rotator cuff tendinitis could be the culprit if you have trouble achieving a full range of shoulder motion, hear snapping or cracking noises when you move your shoulder, or if you’re experiencing pain, tenderness, or weakness in the shoulder.
How can I avoid it?—In tennis, rotator cuff tendinitis most often results from too much overhead serving. To prevent your overhead serve from injuring your rotator cuff, you’ll need to minimize the tendon strain caused by your serve. To do this, focus on adjusting your serve technique to achieve an angle greater than 90 degrees between your arm and your side. You can also work to make overhead contact with the ball when it is slightly in front of you, instead of directly above or even behind you, so that you avoid overreaching and overstraining your tendons.
What is it?—Ankle sprains can happen anywhere, but they are especially common on the tennis court. The fast pace, quick side-to-side movements, and rapid changes of direction that characterize a good game of tennis can easily lead to overstretching, or even partial tearing, of the ligaments attached to the ankle joint. The most common symptoms of a sprained ankle are pain, bruising, swelling, or stiffness.
How can I avoid it?—Most tennis-related ankle sprains happen when you roll on to the lateral (or outside) edge of the foot: this rolling twists and overstretches the ankle’s outer ligaments. One of the best ways to prevent this from happening is to invest in good quality tennis shoes that include sufficient built-in support on the outer edge. If you’ve suffered from ankle injuries in the past or are otherwise particularly susceptible to sprains, it may also be a good idea to wear an ankle brace for extra support during play. While recovering from an ankle sprain usually just takes a few days, it’s important to avoid repeated sprains, as they can permanently weaken your ankles.
Other general tips
For additional help in preventing these and other common tennis-related injuries, keep the following tips in mind:
Always warm up—It’s much easier to strain or injure muscles that are cold and stiff. A proper warm up, complete with stretches, helps make sure your muscles are in good condition before play begins.
Avoid overworking any one type of shot—You can help prevent injuries associated with repetitive movements by making sure to practice a range of strokes. Rather than focusing on just your backhand for half an hour, for example, switch things up by practicing multiple strokes in shorter bursts.
Get expert advice—If you suspect that improper technique might be making you more susceptible to injury, it can be helpful to consult with a coach or other tennis professional to make sure you’re playing with correct technique and positioning.