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Staying on the Court: Understanding and preventing tennis-related injuries

Jun 14, 2017 02:00PM

Recreational tennis is an excellent way to stay fit, enjoy a sport, and compete. Tennis is one of the world’s most popular racquet sports and is one of the few sports that can be either a team sport or individual sport. Plus, you can play it competitively throughout your entire life. However, like many sports, injuries in tennis can hinder your enjoyment of the game.

National data shows that recreational tennis injuries are two-thirds of the time caused by overuse and a third are acute injuries. According to local Tennis Pro Clint Rogers the most common overuse injuries seen in recreational tennis are lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow), wrist pain, shoulder pain, and plantar fasciitis (heel pain). Acute injuries commonly include knee injuries, and muscle tears and strains.  

Benjamin Petre, MD, orthopedic surgeon at Anne Arundel Medical Group (AAMG) Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Specialists, explains these common injuries:

Tennis elbow and wrist pain – These two injuries stem from a similar root problem: multiple repetitions of bad stroke form. If the wrist is overused, instead of swinging through the ball with the whole arm there is too much stress on the wrist joint and the muscles that control it, namely the lateral epicondyle muscles. The most important preventive thing you can do is to learn good form and swing. Taking a few lessons may help prevent these injuries and improve your game.

Shoulder pain – Commonly shoulder pain occurs when the rotator cuff muscles start to fatigue. The rotator cuff muscles help center and stabilize the ball and socket of the shoulder. When they fatigue there is abnormal motion of the joint and the ball slides in the socket. This leads to tendonitis and bursitis of the shoulder. Rotator cuff strengthening exercises greatly help reduce the likelihood of these symptoms.

Plantar fasciitis – The plantar fascia is a spring-type ligament that supports the arch of your foot. Overuse of your foot, compounded by ill-fitting footwear, often causes it. To prevent plantar fasciitis, slowly and gradually build into exercise to not overwork the foot. Plus, make sure you have proper-fitting footwear, and if necessary, supportive insoles.  

Knee injuries – Meniscal tears and ligament tears occur when you stop short or try to change direction quickly and do not have the strength and stability to do it. The knee twisting or shifting abnormally can then cause damage and tears. Prevention of these injuries occurs weeks before you hit the court. A good strength, jump (plyometric) and balance (proprioceptive) training program can help prevent acute knee injuries.

Muscle tears and strains - Muscle tears and strains occur when a muscle is stretched beyond its natural excursion and especially when you are firing the muscle. A short, tight muscle is prone to these types of injury. Prevention is targeted at stretching and proper warmup to ensure you are not tight. Prior to any participation, players should stretch both lower and upper extremities and go through a proper warmup.

Even though there can be injuries, Dr. Petre says tennis is an excellent and safe recreational sport. He adds that prevention is the key and offers several tips.

First, in the months and weeks before going on the court, make sure you are in the proper physical shape and condition. This includes targeted strengthening of the rotator cuff, wrist and elbow, and muscles around the knee. Then, every time you play, warm up properly and dedicate time to stretching the entire body. For ideas on proper stretches for tennis, visit askAAMC.org/Tennis.

If you are concerned that your technique may be leading to injury, take a lesson with a tennis professional. Make sure you have proper-fitting and functioning equipment including your footwear.  

Finally, enjoy your sport, but if you feel you are developing an injury, don’t push through pain. You should get an evaluation from a sports medicine specialist.

“Staying on the Court” was provided by Anne Arundel Medical Center

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