There’s a reason why “tennis elbow” became its own medical term. Tennis caters to those seeking intense one-on-one competition and individuals interested in the teamwork aspect of a slower paced doubles games.
Now that summer’s arrived, tennis and other warm-weather sports are in full bloom. While high school and collegiate athletes may have benefitted from a pre-season, the average recreational athlete and beloved weekend warrior among us are at risk of injury. The repeated stop-and-go movements that occur throughout a match can leave us vulnerable to an injury. This can come from a single traumatic event, such as a muscle strain caused from reaching to hit a ball just out of contact, or from repeated actions that can lead to an overuse injury by continually stressing muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
With the knowledge that tennis is a physically demanding sport, what are some ways to avoid tennis injuries while playing a game many of us have loved for years? Here are a few tips:
Maintain good cardiovascular health. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days a week. These activities should begin ideally 4-6 weeks prior to beginning recreational tennis activity. Contact your PCP or cardiologist if you have a history of heart/lung problems before beginning a new program.
Wear sneakers that fit. Worn-out and loose shoes can lead to poor grip on the tennis court and increase ankle sprains and tennis injuries. The first line of shock absorption from force of the ground begins with the shoe you are wearing. New athletic shoes may take some time to break in – be sure to wear your new pair around the house and for some walks outside of the home before playing a game of tennis, to avoid skin breakdown and blistering.
Warm up. It’s important to warm up the specific body parts used to avoid tennis injuries. Begin by jogging around the tennis court, side shuffling at the base line, and running up to the net followed, by backpedaling to the service or base lines. Be sure to keep your racket in hand to simulate play with active arm movements.
Stretch well and often. Listed below are a number of stretches that can be performed at the court, after dynamic warm-up is complete.
- Wrist extensor stretching: The forearm is commonly restricted in those with tennis elbow due to the gripping of the racket and active wrist movements for ball placement on the court. Gently pull your fingers and wrist forward for a stretch along the back of your lower arm. Hold 30-60 seconds and repeat 2-3 times.
- Latissimus stretching: A long muscle that extends from the back up to the shoulder. Stretching can help increase shoulder mobility for improved swing. Hold on to a nearby fence pole, stepping back with the same leg and pulling gently to feel a stretch along the outside of your armpit and down the side of your trunk. Hold 30-60 seconds and repeat 2-3 times.
- Calf stretching: Flexibility in the lower leg is important to allow for stop and go movements during the game. With hands against a hard surface, place one leg back and keep the knee straight with the heel on the ground to feel a stretch along the back of your lower leg and behind your knee. Hold 30-60 seconds and repeat 2-3 times.
- Hamstring stretching: Flexibility in the upper thighs can assist with shock absorption to reduce likelihood of muscle strains. Place your leg on a nearby bench and lean forward to feel a stretch in the back of your thigh. Hold 30-60 seconds and repeat 2-3 times.
Stay hydrated. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking 16-20 fl oz of water or a sports beverage 4 hours prior to activity, and 3-8oz ever 15-20 minutes when exercising for 60 minutes or longer. Symptoms of dehydration can include any of the following: excessive thirst, fatigue, light headedness, dizziness, confusion, or dry mouth.
If you’re experiencing pain or injury, call your doctor.