Every true grass court enthusiast knows the 104th Davis Cup — The World Cup of Tennis — is upon us.
With 130 countries participating, it is widely considered the premier annual international tennis competition. Couple that with Arizona’s ideal spring weather and now is the time many Weekend Warriors start wielding racquets for those friendly and often competitive games of tennis.
While “tennis elbow” is an injury most people automatically associate with racquet sports, Gregory Nelson, MD, a fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon with The CORE Institute, says it isn’t actually a common racquet sport injury.
Lateral epicondylitis, as tennis elbow is clinically known, is actually more common among laborers and desk jockeys who perform repetitive forearm rotation while driving bolts or clicking the mouse.
The condition typically presents as an achy or burning pain over the outside of the elbow joint, sometimes radiating up the arm or down the forearm. It often is more bothersome first thing in the morning when the arm is stiff or at the end of a long day of activity.
Tennis elbow is caused by degenerative changes in the tendons of the forearm that move the wrist resulting from the accumulation of many micro tears within the tendon that cannot heal due to continued use.
Nelson cites adequate stretching to make the tendons more supple and pliable coupled with adjusting one’s grip and swing as the best ways for racquet athletes at every level to prevent the condition.
Leading with the elbow, wrist shots and having a small, tight grip on the racquet are common mistakes that predispose players to tennis elbow.
Rotator Cuff Tendinitis
Another injury linked to racquet sports is rotator cuff tendinitis. While there is no true inflammation of the tendon, there can be inflammation and thickening of the bursa (a fluid-filled sac that acts as a cushion between bones, tendons, joints and muscles). Pain is usually associated with rotator cuff problems resulting from changes in the mechanics of the shoulder after a rotator cuff injury. Prevention is key to preventing rotator cuff tendinitis.
Adjusting swing patterns, especially the overhead serve is paramount to injury prevention.
Most players, due to deconditioning and loss of flexibility, serve with the shoulder at 90 degrees (level with the ground). Dr. Nelson says this creates greater opportunity for injury. He recommends elevating the shoulder when serving.
Other injuries associated with racquet sports may include muscle strains of the back and shoulder due to the twisting, reaching and serving motions of the sport. A few easy and quick changes can address and potentially prevent injury.
And, as with most sports, using the proper equipment is essential.
Choose a racquet that suits your style of play and, if necessary, have a professional adjust the tension of the strings. The recoil of hitting a tennis ball can put considerable stress on the arm. Also, be sure to wear shoes designed for tennis as they offer much more support and traction than the average running shoe.
Playing the surface is another important factor to consider.
If the court is wet, it can be a serious hazard.
Nelson also stresses the importance of warming up prior to engaging in any physical activity, including tennis and other racquet sports.
Stretching improves blood flow and enhances flexibility. The rate of injury is greatly increased among those who do not make warming up, stretching and cooling down a regular part of their game plan.
And, of course, Dr. Nelson reminds everyone to heed the warning, “everything in moderation.” Staying active is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
If you vary activity and embrace the value of cross-training, you may be able to prevent racquet sport injuries and end up with more years to hone your serve and strengthen your backhand.