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Most Common Tennis Injuries

photo by danila richardson

Another tennis player is sitting out another match as he lets his body heal.  A shoulder, a wrist, an ankle, an elbow, what is it this time?  Is it the usual fatigue from a good workout that with a little rest will be resolved, or is it something a little more serious?

Statistics show that 30% of all tennis player will suffer some sort of tennis injury each year.  These injuries can be broken down into two categories, overuse injuries and traumatic injuries.  Just as it sounds overuse injuries occur when a muscle, joint or soft tissue is stressed over time without being given proper time to heal.  These injuries may start out as a small ache or pain but can grow into a debilitating injury if they are not treated.  Traumatic injuries are acute injuries that happen from a fall, twist or reach that causes immediate damage to a bone, muscle or ligament.

The most common tennis injuries are:

  •  sore shoulder:
  • tennis elbow
  • wrist strain
  • knee injuries
  • calf strains
  • sprained ankle
  • stress fractures of the leg and back.

A sore shoulder is usually caused by poor conditioning and weakness of the rotator cuff. Shoulder injuries can range from simple tendonitis, strain to tearing of the tendon from the bone.  The milder injuries usually occur in the younger players and the more serious injuries occur with older players and higher level players.  Treatment for these injuries involves rest, ice and analgesics.  If you continue to play with an unstable rotator cuff you can cause further and more severe damage to the shoulder.

Tennis elbow  is an overuse of the muscles that extend the wrist or bend it backwards. Every tennis player knows this is the most common position for you wrist to be in while hitting the ball.  Most tennis players will notice the forearm muscle on of their dominant arm is larger than the one on their nondominant arm.This isn’t a problem because this muscle needs to be strong for tennis.  The problem is the lack of balance of the antagonist muscle on the underside of the arm.  This uneven pull can cause problems in the elbow.  Tennis elbow can be prevented by strengthening the muscle on the forearm as well as their antagonist muscles,along with stretching, proper technique and correct grip size.

Knee injuries most often are acute injuries and can include jumpers knee, torn ligament, torn meniscus.   Chondromalacia is an overuse injury that occurs when the tissue under your kneecap softens up  and usually involves unbalanced muscles.Making sure you bend properly, as well as placing yourself in a balanced position to make a return, are the best ways to avoid a knee injury from tennis. Most acute knee injuries result from being in an awkward positioning in an effort to get to the ball. Don’t jeopardize your body in an effort to get to an unplayable ball.

Both wrist strains and calf strains occur from overusing the muscles in these areas when the are either weak or not warmed up prior to playing.  Calf strains can also occur as an acute injury when finding yourself in awkward position reaching for a ball.

Sprained ankles are acute injuries that occur when you “roll” your ankle.  Again proper technique, balance and knowing your limitations on going for a ball will all prevent a sprained ankle.  Another key factor in protecting your ankles is having proper footwear.  Tennis shoes are designed for lateral movement whereas running shoes can not and will cause you to turn your ankle when you are moving laterally for a ball.  If you sprain your ankle rest, ice and analgesics are the usual treatment.  When you return to the court you may want to wear a brace for extra support while you work on strengthening the joint again.

Stress fractures of the back, feet and legs are most common in junior tennis players.  Increasing training too rapidly before strengthening the muscles is the cause for stress fractures.  Remember junior players are still growing and often their muscles haven’t grown at the same rate as their bones so the bone doesn’t have adequate support and takes the stress rather than the supporting tissues.  I personally know three junior players that have suffered from stress fractures of the spine, a scary injury that will take you out of the game for a long time.  So monitor your junior player and control the amount of time on the court, especially during a growth spurt.  Balance playing with strengthening, stretching and fitness.

Overall most tennis injuries can be prevented by taking time to warm up and stretch.  Research has shown that cold muscles are more prone to injury.  Also make sure you have the correct equipment, tennis shoes that fit properly will benefit your feet, ankles and knees.  A racquet that is the correct weight and size will prevent undue stress on your wrist, elbow and shoulder.  Finally, knowing your limitation on the court and not putting yourself at risk for an acute injury will keep you on the court instead of watching from the sidelines.

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