Two-thirds of tennis injuries are due to overuse, and the other one-third is due to a traumatic injury or acute event. Overuse injuries most often affect the shoulders, wrists, and elbows.
What types of injuries are most common for tennis players?
The injury most heard about is “tennis elbow,” or lateral epicondylitis, which is an overuse of the muscles that extend the wrist or bend it backward. It is called the extensor muscle group and is most used when the tennis ball impacts the racquet. Proper strengthening of these extensor muscles and other muscles around it, along with a regular warm-up routine, will help decrease the likelihood of experiencing tennis elbow. Paying attention to technical components such as grip size and proper technique can also help prevent this condition.
Shoulder overuse injuries are usually due to poor conditioning and strength of the rotator cuff muscles. The rotator cuff helps to position the shoulder properly in the shoulder socket. When it is fatigued or weak, there is some increased “play” of the ball in the socket, irritating the tissues. The tendon or the bursa can become inflamed and hurt. This usually produces pain with overhead motions such as serving. If the pain persists, it can interfere with sleep and other daily activities. Some of the main muscles in the shoulder and scapula area that could get injured from overuse are the pectoralis major and minor, teres minor, supraspinatus, infraspinatus, and the rhomboids.
Flexing and extending the wrist against light resistance with an exercise band three to four times a week may help lessen wrist pain and decrease injuries.
Twenty percent of junior players suffer stress fractures, compared to just 7.5 percent of professional players. Stress fractures are the result of increasing training too rapidly. When the muscles tire, more stress is placed on the bone.
If this occurs too quickly, the bone cannot adjust rapidly enough to accommodate the stress, and it breaks. These “breaks” usually crack in the bone that causes pain rather than an actual break or displacement of the bone. Stress fractures can occur in the leg (tibia or fibula) or the foot (the navicular or the metatarsals).
These injuries are preventable with proper strength and endurance training before extensive tennis playing. Appropriate footwear is also critical to preventing stress fractures.
Muscle strains usually occur from quick, sudden moves. A good warm-up followed by proper stretching can help diminish muscle strains. The warm-up should include a slow jog, jumping jacks, or riding a bike at low intensity.
Proper stretching should be slow and deliberate. Do not bounce to stretch; hold the stretch 30 seconds or more. The best stretches are moving stretches, such as swinging your leg as far forward and backward or swinging your arms in circles and across your body. Proper stretching should last at least five minutes.
Patellar tendonitis (aka jumper’s knee)
Another injury that is particularly common for tennis players is patellar tendonitis. This injury typically occurs from the constant jumps that tennis players do during a game. It is lots of inflammation in the tendons of the patella a.k.a. The knee-cap. This type of injury if not addressed could lead to more severe and long-term injuries that might even possibly require surgery. When the tendons of the patella are under constant strain and get inflamed, it can put undue pressure on the surrounding musculature and anatomy. For example, the meniscus may tear requiring it to be repaired surgically.
What are some of the treatment options and prevention methods used to prevent injuries for a tennis player?
While we have already discussed some of the options of injury prevention methods for tennis players, let’s highlight a few more and discuss treatment options for when an injury has occurred.
Like mentioned previously one of the principal things to do to avoid injuries would be to have a sufficient warm-up time before the game. It is essential to not forget the stretches for all the extremities and paying particular focus on the biarticular muscles of the legs, and arms. This includes many things like arm swinging exercises, shoulder stretches, mainly targeting the rotator cuff muscles. Stretches for the gastrocnemius, soleus, hamstrings, quads, and adductors, are essential for warming up the leafs as well as jogging in place.
If you are a tennis player and find yourself in the stage of wanting to recover from injuries previously acquired I would highly recommend seeking out a well educated medical massage therapist, who is trained in sports injuries. A well trained medical massage therapist will be able to find and release areas of restriction and help bring blood flow back the area, so you can perform and feel at your optimal best once again.
If you have any concerns about an injury or how to prevent future injuries speak with a sports medicine professional or athletic trainer. The athlete should return to play only when clearance is granted by a healthcare professional.
Katura Lambright, Student at European Medical School Of Massage in Sinking Spring, Berks County PA
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