The beginning of September is one of the most exciting times of the year for tennis enthusiasts, as the US Open brings out the best players in the world. As the professional tennis season approaches its final months, it becomes a challenge for players to stay injury-free, especially in a sport that is played nearly year-round. Tennis injuries can occur in players of all skill levels, from the professional ranks to the recreational player. One of the main causes of injuries is the inability of a body part to withstand the demands placed on it, which often results from either a lack of training or training too much. Tennis elbow is usually seen in novice players, as opposed to advanced players, because it is likely to be caused by either improper technique or equipment-–things that you learn with time and guidance. Here are a few tips on how to prevent injuries from occurring on the courts.
1. It all begins with the racquet–having the correct grip size and string tension can minimize the stress placed on your elbow and shoulder. Tennis-specific shoes, which have an outsole designed for clay courts or a hard court surface, can help protect your feet.
2. Your warm-up should begin with jogging then proceed to sport-specific movements such as side steps or forward/back runs. Once you’ve warmed up until you’re sweating a little, you can begin some gentle stretches. Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds and do 2-3 repetitions. Do not stretch to the point that it causes pain.
3. Next you can proceed to hit tennis balls inside the service boxes to help build racquet head speed and control, in preparation for hitting with longer swings from the baseline.
4. Strength training, especially in the shoulder, can help prevent injuries such as tennis or golfer’s elbow from occurring. Build strength in the legs to allow for better positioning to hit the ball on the court, as well as the ability to transition power from the legs to increase racquet head speed on the tennis serve. Core strengthening can provide the important link in the chain between the lower and upper body in all tennis strokes, which require trunk rotation as well as stability. Core strengthening exercises should focus on abdominals, lower back and hip musculature.
5. Footwork is one of the fundamentals in tennis, as it allows the player to get into the proper setup position to hit the ball and recover for the next shot. Speed and agility drills can be performed, including changes in direction and reaction time. It is most beneficial to perform these at maximal effort with short duration rest breaks of 10-20 seconds to mimic an actual tennis match.
6. Preparation for the ground strokes starts with good footwork. Avoid hitting the ball late to prevent stress on your arm by swinging back the racquet early. It can be helpful to get an evaluation from a teaching professional for proper technique and grip position.
7. Shoulder injuries are very common in tennis. As with overhead athletes like basketball players, tennis players often lose internal rotation range of motion, which can predispose the shoulder to injury. It is essential to address this inflexibility with stretching exercises. Another key factor to prevent shoulder injuries is maintaining adequate strength in the shoulder blade and rotator cuff.
8. Stretch after playing tennis to help prevent any soreness or stiffness and to speed up the recovery process. If any part of your body is sore, you can apply ice for 15-20 minutes.
Before starting an exercise regimen, remember to consult with your physician.
Pawel Wawrzyniak is a doctor of physical therapy at the Sports Rehabilitation and Performance Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. He played Division I collegiate tennis for 4 years, and has taught tennis to all levels of players at the USTA National Tennis Center and West Side Tennis Club, where he was a hitting partner to WTA tour players.