How to Prevent and Treat Six Common Tennis Injuries
By Dr. Corey Vande Zandschulp
Tennis is not only a fun, competitive sport that tests your physical strength and strategic skills, it has extensive health benefits: from improving muscle tone to lowering your resting heart rate. But like most sports, there’s a risk of injury. It’s not just elite international players like Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic who get injured, weekend warriors and even young teens can experience sudden injuries or develop repetitive motion injuries. According to the National Safety Council, In 2015, 23,609 people visited the emergency room for a tennis injury. Of that number 14% of patients were between the ages of 14 and 24.
Symptoms of a tennis injury include:
- Pain, tenderness and/or weakness in the injured area
- Injured area is warm to the touch
- Difficulty lifting or fully extending your injured limb
- Snapping and crackling noises while moving an injured joint
- Back pain that gradually worsens
- Weakened hand grip
Rotator Cuff Injury
The tendons and four muscles that make up the rotator cuff provide stability and rotate the shoulder. A rotator cuff injury can happen suddenly or gradually over time. Overusing the rotator cuff by swinging a tennis racket again and again can cause a rotator cuff tear.
Prevention: To prevent a rotator cuff injury, I recommend these stretches and strengthening exercises. The exercises can be done at home to strengthen the muscles that make up the rotator cuff. The stretches can be done at home, at work or as part of your warm up before you start your game.
Treatment: If you have a mild shoulder injury, you can treat the injury at home with rest, ice, compression and elevation:
Stop playing tennis until you no longer feeling pain, then work on my recommended stretches and exercises to build shoulder strength and flexibility before heading back to the tennis court. More severe shoulder injuries should be evaluated by an orthopedic physician.
Wrist tendonitis is inflammation of the tendons in the wrist. It develops over time from swinging the racket, especially if there’s excessive wrist motion with each swing. You may feel pain on either side of the wrist or in the palm. You may hear a clicking in your wrist as well.
Prevention: Working with a tennis instructor to improve your technique will help prevent wrist tendonitis. Using the right racket will also help. Ask a tennis professional at your local tennis center to help pick out a racket that is right for you. Correct grip size, string tension, racket size and weight will help prevent straining the tendons in your wrist when you swing your racket.
Treatment: Mild tendonitis can be treated using RICE, but you will need to modify your swing or the pain will return. If pain persists or worsens, see an orthopedic physician. Treatment can include a wrist brace, splint or cortisone injections.
Tennis players love the fast-paced action of the game, but those sudden movements can sprain your ankle.
Prevention: Wear padded tennis socks, or two pairs of regular socks, and make sure your athletic shoes provide good support. If your shoes are getting worn out, replace them right away.
Treatment: Most sprained ankles can be treated at home using RICE. However, a severe sprain can result in a torn ligament. If you can’t walk more than four steps without severe pain, if you can’t move your ankle at all or if your ankle is numb, visit an orthopedic physician.
Stress Fractures in the Back
A broken back sounds severe, but stress fractures are not always painful. They can result in lower back pain that gradually worsens, especially when playing tennis or other sports. Tennis can cause stress fractures in the back because of the extension movements required to serve the ball, and to bend and rotate as you play. These movements put stress on your spine.
Prevention: Working with a tennis instructor to improve your technique will help prevent back problems. Your instructor can teach you how to serve the ball without arching your back too much, and how to balance your body weight by bending your knees and raising your heels. Back strengthening exercises and stretches will keep your back limber and strong, and help prevent injuries:
Treatment: A stress fracture in your back can be evaluated and treated by an orthopedic physician. Depending on your injury, your physician may also recommend acupuncture and physical therapy.
For most people, jumping is just another part of playing tennis. This can cause microscopic tears or put strain on the patellar tendon, which attaches the kneecap to the shinbone.
Prevention: When playing tennis, don’t push yourself to play longer and harder. Overexertion causes accidents and injuries. All impact activities – like tennis, basketball and running – affect your knees. If you only do high impact sports on a regular basis you may eventually wear out the cartilage in your knees, which can lead to partial or full knee replacement surgery. Vary your routine and incorporate low impact activities like walking, swimming, strength training and yoga. Low impact activities can provide amazing physical exercise. Variety is the spice of life and the key to maintaining the long term health of your knees.
Treatment: Although minor knee injuries can be treated with RICE (and should be a wakeup call that you are doing too many high impact activities), more severe knee injuries may require a knee brace, crutches to keep your weight off your knee while it heals, medication, corticosteroids injections or physical therapy. If your knee injury does not improve with RICE, do not put off visiting an orthopedic physician. There are many ways to treat a knee injury that do not involve surgery.
One of the most common tennis injuries is inflammation of the tendons joining the forearm muscles to the outside of the elbow. This is a repetitive motion injury caused by swinging your tennis racket over and over. If you have tennis elbow, you’ll feel pain or burning on the outside of the elbow and you may have a weaker grip.
Prevention: Using the right racket will help prevent tennis elbow. Ask a tennis professional at your local tennis center to help pick out the racket that is right for you. Correct grip size, string tension, racket size and weight will help prevent straining the tendons in your elbow when you swing your racket. Working with a tennis instructor to improve your technique will also help prevent tennis elbow. I also recommend exercises to strengthen your forearms and warming up before you start your game:
Treatment: If you think you may have tennis elbow, visit an orthopedic physician. Your physician may recommend an elbow brace, physical therapy, medication or acupuncture to help alleviate inflammation and pain.
Tennis is a fun, competitive sport that can be played indoors or outside. By learning how to prevent and treat common tennis injuries, you’ll be able to keep playing tennis for years to come. Many of these prevention techniques – back stretches, rotator cuff exercises and incorporating low impact activities into your weekly schedule – will not only help prevent tennis injuries, they will keep your whole body limber and strong.
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Do you want to learn to play tennis like a pro? Enter the the Go To Ortho Facebook contest! One lucky winner will receive four free private lessons with a tennis pro at the Lake Oswego Tennis Center. The “four lessons with a pro” prize pack can be redeemed by an individual or a group of up to four players. This prize pack is worth $240.
Entering the contest is easy:
- “Like” and “follow” Go To Ortho on Facebook at www.facebook.com/gotoortho
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Everyone interested in tennis is encouraged to enter. If you win, you can bring your family, your friends or learn alone – whatever works for best you! The prize is transferable to another person, so you can enter the contest for your children, grandchildren or friends. You do not have to be a patient of Go To Ortho to enter the contest, and no purchase is necessary. For more information or to read the official contest rules, visit: www.gotoortho.com/tennis-contest.