Get in the Swing of Tennis Injury Prevention

The tennis excitement is starting to heat up! More than halfway through the Australian Open Grand Slam heading into the quarterfinals with only 8 competitors left in the draw the baseline excitement levels are certainly rising.

The tennis buzz is infectious, whether you enjoy watching it on TV, from the front row of Rod Laver Arena, or simply relaxing and soaking up the ground-pass atmosphere at Melbourne Park.

All of this excitement can often get people in the mood to play a lot of tennis –including myself! This extra motivation is great but we all need to be careful not to over indulge, as a large spike in any sport or exercise is often a risk for causing injury. Let’s take a look at the best ways to minimise risk with the racquet in hand.

Avoid Overload

The most at-risk are those who haven’t played “in years” and may have possibly also lost some general fitness conditioning. The combination of deconditioning and sudden spike in playing tennis can lead to muscle strains. This is due to the insufficient strength required for the quick and powerful movements that are often required in a game scenario. The sudden spike in amount of tennis played per session, or frequency per week, can also overload your tendons and joints as they are not prepared for so much physical activity so suddenly.

A good example of this kind of over-load injury is “tennis elbow”. This usually happens when we overload the forearm muscles with repetitive stress – like when you suddenly start playing a lot of tennis.

Furthermore, most people often underestimate how many muscles are actually used in playing tennis. Take your abdominals for example, with all the twisting and turning required to make certain shots, or the calf involvement in the sudden and rapid change of direction.  Therefore, slowly easing back into hits of tennis is helpful and will provide your body with the time required to adapt.

Don’t forget your stretching

The other area where people tend to go wrong is having a good tennis hit with a mate and then packing up, jumping straight in the car and heading home.

Just because we don’t see the superstars doing their stretching regime on the court after a match, doesn’t mean we can forget about it. I can guarantee the professionals would be doing a serious amount of stretching – not to mention water recovery – after each and every match.

My two most important examples are:

Calves:

As mentioned earlier the calf is responsible for the explosive power for change of direction and propulsion to quickly chase down those drop shots. If you are playing a lot you want to keep your calves nice and flexible to help prevent a calf strain or tear.

Hip Flexors:

hip flexors

You wouldn’t think your hip flexors are super important to stretch in tennis however it’s a different story when you understand the anatomy. Most tennis players have experienced lower back pain or tightness at some point in their career either from the rotation in serving or the quick rotation of the back to hit that backhand winner and tight hip flexors can be the cause.

Your hip flexor psoas actually attaches to the front part of your lower spine so if it gets tight it tugs on your lower back and pulls it into a jammed up position. This means your back muscles are in a shortened position meaning they get tight and you are at more risk of jamming your spine up even more, or overloading these already tight back muscles when you next rotate to hit the ball. By stretching your hip flexors you can make a big difference to preventing this! If you work a desk-based job as well, your hip flexors will already be tighter than normal as they are shortened during sitting so this is definitely an important stretch for this population as well!

 

hip flexor anatomy4

 

Upper Back Stretching Regime – Ease (your) back in.

Aside from the normal hamstring, calf, and quad stretches that most people tend to do, it is also important that you release your upper back. Upper back flexibility is crucial for all of the rotation and twisting involved with hitting and serving in tennis and for avoiding the overload in the back as discussed above. If you are tight and stiff from a long day or week at work spent sitting at a desk, it’s likely that you will have limited rotation from your upper back for your swing and serve.

This reduction in upper back flexibility can then lead to an increased risk of injury in your shoulder due to the shoulder having to extend and rotate a lot further to compensate. Your lower back can also be overloaded trying to compensate for the limited rotation coming from the upper back.

A favourite stretch of mine that can help alleviate these issues is pictured below. The demonstrations depict a foam roller, however the stretch in the second picture can also be done without a foam roller.

 

thread aneedlethread needle tennis

 

Feeling tight? Self Release with a Foam Roller:

With any sport or physical activity muscles get tired and eventually tight from the stressors we put on them. If we ignore this the tightness and tension within the muscle can build up and is often the principal cause of many different injuries. A great example of this is runners knee where the ITB and outer quad muscle get tight and tug on their insertion down at the knee. This often causes the knee cap to be pulled across to the outer knee causing poor patella tracking and often knee pain. Due to the change of direction and speed required in tennis this muscle often also gets tight and can create the same issue. Tight calves can also cause calf, ankle and knee pain.

A foam roller is the perfect tool to be able to release these muscles independently so that you don’t need to see a masseuse or physiotherapist as regularly. Perfect way to prevent injuries independently! See below for examples of ITB release and calf.

   foam roller 2foam roller

 

Shoulder Strength for Striking:

The shoulder is another common area for injury in tennis due to the repetitive nature of using your shoulders to strike the ball. The shoulders can be offloaded by making sure you use your legs, hips and core to help generate power as a kinetic chain but also by strengthening the deep stabilising muscles of the shoulder called the rotator cuff. These small muscles are responsible for keeping the head of the shoulder deep in its socket where it should be to help prevent injury and if these are overloaded they can lead to rotator cuff tears which often require shoulder reconstruction surgery. Below are two videos to help strengthen these muscles which can be done as a preventative program or also as pre-game warm up to make sure they are firing during the game.

dumbwaiter

Exercise 1: Dumbwaiter

Activate and squeeze your shoulder blades together with your core on at the same time. Once these things are set rotate both arms outwards keeping the head of the shoulder sucked deep inside the joint.

Rough dosage – 2×12 – Great as preventative rehabilitation or a perfect pre-activation warm up.

        shouldershoulder 2

Shoulder Exercise 2: External Rotation at 90 degrees

Works on rotator cuff strength. Keep your shoulder blade active and drawn together whilst keeping the head of your shoulder sucked back into the joint before externally rotating. Rough dosage: 2×12.  Also perfect as a tennis warm up especially in preventing injury with overhead activities such as serving.

 

Be Sun Smart

Last but not least, make sure you get yourself prepared for your hit as we all know that the Aussie summer can be very dangerous. Especially when you are playing 2-3 sets of singles on a 35 degree day. Sunburn and sunstroke are not fun for anyone!

tenis layts

Essential items for handling the harsh sun include:

  • A good amount of water for hydration including the days leading up to the event.
  • Hydralyte: a specialty electrolyte replacement drink, to help replenish what is lost through sweating
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Light coloured clothing – avoid black as this attracts the heat

 

  • Practical Recommendations to avoid injury over this Aussie Open Season:
  • Warm up well.
  • Build up to more intense matches – have a hit the first few times where you’re not forced to sprint for balls and serve at your absolute maximum pace etc., in a match scenario.
  • Try not to overload your body by playing 4 days in a row {for example. }Make sure you have a rest day so your body can recover and adapt, especially if it has been a long time since your last hit.
  • Make sure you incorporate some stretching before and after play. If you are a desk-based worker during the day or sit a lot for work driving it is paramount you stretch your hip flexors and upper back to avoid injury as you will already be tight in these areas from the sitting position.
  • Be sun smart.
  • Stay Hydrated with water and a drink like Hydralyte for the electrolyte replacement.
  • If you are playing and competing a lot a massage treatment can really help to keep your muscles flexible and help with recovery.

tennis 3

Game, Set, Match.   Enjoy the season of tennis!!

Julia Allan

Physiotherapist

About the author

Julia Allan
Julia Allan

I'm a physiotherapist working majority in the sports field. I'm based in Melbourne working with a variety of different athletes which is currently predominantly with the Victorian Under 19 netball side and the Victorian Fury netball side through Eltham Physio Centre. I also play high level netball myself in the State League competition (VNL) here in Melbourne and I want to share my knowledge to help all athletes prevent injury and improve performance.

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