Tennis injuries are all too common and we regularly see complaints of tennis related injuries in the clinic. Common tennis injuries we see include ankle sprains, and tennis elbow, as well as a range of shoulder & lower back related injuries.
This article will outline some of the prevention strategies to reduce your risk of injury, explain in more detail some of the more common tennis related injuries mentioned above as well as delve into which exercises would be beneficial for tennis players to complete.
How can tennis injuries be prevented?
Overuse is one of the most common reasons why people become injured playing tennis. Due to lockdown, we’ve been unable to play tennis for a long period of time and then suddenly we’re back, with some of us no doubt playing more than 3-4 times per week! While this is great for our physical activity levels & social lives, this greatly increases our risk of a tennis injury.
The number one method to prevent an overuse injury is to slowly increase your return to tennis over several weeks. Utilising your rest days to recover from tennis sessions will allow you to continue playing through the summer months without needing Physiotherapy to treat a tennis injury!
If an injury is not due to overuse, it’s often down to what’s called an acute or traumatic injury, such as an ankle sprain or muscle strain in the lower back. These are a bit trickier to prevent, but nevertheless they can be prevented.
Take an ankle sprain for example, this is when we roll our ankle, overstretching the ligaments and causing them to tear, resulting in injury. Due to the fast-paced nature of tennis it’s clear to see how ankle sprains are a common tennis injury, particularly on glass and clay courts. But how can we help prevent them? The role of ligaments is to provide support and stability to the ankle joint. But, so are muscles. Muscles actually play a vital role in the support and stability of our joints. So, if we’re weak in the muscles which surround our ankle we greatly increase our risk of tennis injuries.
What are the different types of tennis injuries?
So, we’ve categorised tennis injuries into 2 categories; overuse vs traumatic. Let’s now delve deeper into how these injuries occur, using the example of a Shoulder Rotator Cuff Muscle Strain for the traumatic injury and Tennis Elbow for the overuse injury.
Shoulder rotator cuff muscle strain
The rotator cuff is an important group of 4 muscles which originate in the shoulder. As their name suggests, these muscles are important for rotation of the shoulder, as well as having a huge impact on our ability to lift our arm above shoulder height. With the motions of tennis clearly emphasising on shoulder rotation and overhead movements, the rotator cuff is a very common tennis injury. In fact, rotator cuff injuries are the most common shoulder injury out there.
A muscle strain occurs when a certain percentage of the muscle fibres tear, where the extent of the tear determines the severity of the injury. This tear could be due to overstretching, an underlying weakness or a fall onto the shoulder, resulting in injury.
As said above, the percentage that the muscle tears relates to the severity of the injury, as this diagram shows. Grade 3 (the most severe) muscle strain is very uncommon; the most common tends to be Grade 1, which is a mild injury, but nevertheless can be very painful.
Tennis elbow is an injury relating to the muscles in the forearm. These muscles’ main function is to provide our grip strength and wrist movements. Tennis elbow pain comes from the point where these forearm muscles insert into the side of the elbow via a tendon, but your forearm muscles will also feel very tight and tender also.
Tennis elbow is an overuse injury common in racket sports due to their needing a strong grip on the racket. This routinely overuses the muscles in the forearm, leading to an overuse strain, as well as muscle fatigue and tightness. This eventually results in pain at the tendon in the elbow, as shown in the image.
What exercises can I do to minimise the risk of tennis injuries?
Exercise is one of the best methods to minimise the risk of tennis injuries. This section will show two specific exercises which you can complete to reduce your risk of the injuries we described above. Both exercises could be completed at home x3 per week to complement your usual exercise regime.
Wrist bends with weights
This is a great exercise to help strengthen your forearm muscles to reduce your risk of tennis elbow. This is a super simple exercise that can be done at home, in the office or in the gym. All you need is a light weight such as a dumbbell, bottle of water or any other household item you can grip onto easily.
Rest your elbow on your knee, hold the weight and then slowly lower & raise your wrist. You will start to feel an aching sensation build up in the forearm muscles. Complete 15 reps, x3 sets starting with around 1kg, as you get stronger, gradually increase the weight.
Shoulder press with rotation
This is one of the best exercises for your rotator cuff and overall shoulder strength. This exercise can be done either in sitting or standing. Start with a light weight or household item, and follow the technique in the picture, completing 15 reps & x3 sets
As you get stronger, gradually increase the weight you hold and reduce the risk of tennis injuries.
What do I do if I get injured during tennis?
Unfortunately, injuries in sport are part of the parcel. Sometimes they can be prevented through exercise, but sometimes it’s just bad luck!
If you sustain an injury whilst playing tennis it is important to listen to your body to avoid further injury to the area. If after you sustain a minor injury, you can play on but are only in mild discomfort, the chances are it’s more than safe to carry on. However, if you’re powering through moderate to severe pain because you don’t want to let your playing partner down, you’ll probably make the problem worse.
Depending upon the injury, the management of said injury can vary hugely and how we initially manage an injury plays a large part in how quickly we can return to playing tennis.
The best advice to offer someone who injures themselves whilst playing tennis is to book in for a Physiotherapy assessment, as the longer we leave it unmanaged, the generally longer it takes us to return to full fitness.
Sports Physiotherapy at Katie Bell Physio
Here at Katie Bell Physio, we have a range of expert sports Physiotherapists who regularly assess, manage & treat a varied range of sporting injuries from ankle sprains, tennis elbows, shoulder injuries and many, many more.
On your initial assessment, you’ll receive a diagnosis, advice on how to best manage your injury at home, and what to do, but more importantly what not to do! You’ll also receive a comprehensive exercise rehabilitation plan to get you back fighting fit, and back out on the courts.