Tennis Injuries Treatment, Symptoms, Prevention
Tennis is a great sport that requires speed, power, endurance, balance, and coordination. However it can cause injury to many parts of the body due to the high speed of racquet impact, as well as repetition and use of your dominant arm. The frequent stopping, pivoting and jarring can also contribute to lower limb injuries in your knees, ankles or hips. Back injuries can also occur due to the frequent rotation required during groundstrokes. In this blog we will talk about some of the most common tennis injuries.
Types of Tennis Injuries
Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is a painful condition of the outside of the elbow. It is often caused by overuse of the muscles, which become inflamed and in some cases you can get microtears. This condition is quite slow to heal as the tendon has a poor blood supply. Symptoms develop gradually, and can worsen over weeks and months.
Physiotherapy treatment can help by promoting blood flow to the area with soft tissue massage to the muscles and tendon. Ultrasound, hot or cold packs, and TENS can also be used for pain relief. They will give you an exercise program to help strengthen your forearm muscles so that they can better cope with the demands of tennis. You should also have your coach analyse your swing technique to ensure your wrist is stable and that you have minimal pressure on the extensor tendons. If appropriate, you may be advised to wear an elbow guard in the short term to help take the pressure off the affected area. Your physio can fit you with the brace and advise you on when you should be wearing it.
Shoulder injuries are common in tennis, often due to the forceful motion of serves or smashes. Performing a tennis serve can overload various structures around the shoulder, particularly if there is tightness or weakness causing muscle imbalances. This can occur with a muscle strain, or during growth spurts in children when the muscles become tight as the bones are lengthening. Frequent overuse of the rotator cuff muscles in the shoulder can also cause impingement of the bursa which can lead to inflammation and pain.
To reduce the risk of injury, a thorough assessment should be performed to identify any muscle imbalances or weaknesses. A physiotherapist can then prescribe you with an individually tailored exercise program to target your strength deficits as well as work on flexibility, stability, and endurance. They can also provide advice on training your training load. Any increases in the amount of training or competition must be gradual to avoid overloading the shoulder. Physiotherapy can also help to reduce pain and swelling with gentle massage and joint mobilisations, ultrasound, heat and TENS. The shoulder can also be taped if deemed appropriate.
Tennis players can be affected by patella tendonitis, also known as jumper’s knee. Knee pain in tennis players most commonly occurs at the front of the knee, due to inflammation of the patellar tendon with repetitive jumping and stop/start motions. Landing on hard surfaces can also contribute to this injury.
Treatment should follow RICE principles (rest, ice, compression and elevation), as well as target strengthening to your quadriceps. Your physiotherapist can help devise an exercise program to suit your needs and target your weaknesses. Regular lower limb stretching is also important and can help prevent injury to your calf, Achilles, and hamstrings.
Lower back injuries
The motion of serving involves hyperextending the lower back with an added rotation and side bend. This places stress on the joints and soft tissues of the lower back. With too much repetition, this may result in a slipping forward of the vertebra (spondylolisthesis). Some cases can develop into a spondylolysis, which is a stress fracture in the pars interarticularis.
Treatment firstly involves a period of rest to allow for healing to occur. Your physiotherapist will then guide your lower back rehabilitation to help build up the strength, stability and flexibility in your muscles. This will mean your back is better supported and better able to cope with the demands of the sport. Your physio will incorporate sports specific exercises and will advise you on when you can return to training and competition.
Tips to prevent tennis injuries
- Always remember to warm up, stretch, and cool down
- Maintain adequate fitness
- Ensure you have good technique. You should seek advice from a qualified coach to help develop or correct your skills
- Avoid over-repetition of the same type of shot. You should be practising a range of strokes including groundstrokes, smashes, volleys and serves.
- Wear appropriate footwear which have adequate foot support
- Check that your racquet is suitable for your style of play, experience and size
- Update your tennis balls regularly. Old or damp balls load the arm with unnecessary force