Spring is here, and that means tennis players of all shapes and sizes are breaking out their racquets and hitting the courts. Along with the start of the tennis season, however, comes the potential for injuries that could result in game, set and match for your body. For advice on getting into top playing shape, Greenwich Citizen asked physical therapist Tatyana Kalyuzhny, DPT, of Orthopaedic and Neurosurgery Specialists (ONS) in Greenwich, about what precautions to take and for tips on conditioning before you even make your first serve.
What are the most common injuries tennis players are prone to?
The most common injuries we see at ONS Physical Therapy are shoulder injuries, elbow tendinitis (or tennis elbow) and calf strains.
Why do people suffer these injuries? What are their most common causes?
Tennis requires running and making frequent multi-directional changes, as well as frequent acceleration and deceleration. It is also a sport that requires a lot of overhead arm motion. Each of these activities requires different body mechanics. The best way to avoid injuries is to condition each muscle group so it will support the demands of each physical activity. Most injuries can be attributed to improper technique and/or a lack of sport-specific conditioning off the court.
What is tennis elbow?
Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a common injury that actually results from overuse of the wrist, which causes inflammation, soreness and often significant pain to the outside of the elbow. Excessive movement of the lateral musculature of the muscle that runs from the wrist to the elbow creates stress that causes microscopic tears leading to inflammation. In severe cases, there may be a partial tear of the tendon fibers, which connect muscle to bone. Tennis elbow can be very debilitating and affects many non-tennis players as well.
Tennis elbow is usually first treated with rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medication. After an evaluation, a doctor may prescribe a physical therapy program to stretch and strengthen the muscles in forearm.
Who is most vulnerable to a tennis injury?
There is no question that players who are most vulnerable to injuries are those who lack proper conditioning. Even if you're a great player with a beautiful swing, if you lack proper conditioning and core strength, you are putting your body at an increased risk for injury.
How important are proper mechanics in avoiding injury?
Proper mechanics play a crucial role in avoiding injuries. The slightest amount of improper alignment can place added stress on tendons and ligaments. You may not notice the ill effects initially, but damage may be cumulative and build to a problem over time.
What are the most effective conditioning techniques and warm-up strategies for tennis players?
Conditioning for tennis should be an ongoing program that takes place off the court. It should include exercises in core and hip strength in multi-directional planes, exercises to strengthen the rotator cuff and elbow and eccentric strengthening, which involves contracting the muscles while simultaneously elongating them to help the body absorb shock. In addition to strengthening, players need to maintain flexibility of their calves, hips and shoulders for proper mechanical efficiency.
An effective warm-up for a tennis player should include light stretching followed by a gentle, five- to ten- minute rally session on the court that employs some lateral and forward shuffles. Warm-up should be gradual and should aim to slowly increase your heart rate and get the muscles ready for play. You should avoid walking onto the court and swinging with full power at the ball.
What are the five to ten most important tips in preventing injuries?
- Proper technique. Have your swing and overall technique evaluated periodically by a professional.
- Incorporate a proper strengthening and conditioning program off the court.
- Maintain flexibility by stretching after play.
- Use proper equipment. Play with a racket that is the correct size, grip and weight for you.
- Wear proper footwear that is designed for tennis and not worn out.
- Avoid making sudden radical changes in your technique unless instructed by a professional.
How do you treat some of the more common injuries -- Achilles tendon, rolled and sprained ankles, shoulder and wrist injuries?
In general, acute injuries should be treated with R.I.C.E, which stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. Once the initial injury has subsided, the following are the usual objectives of a physical therapy program: Achilles tendon injuries are addressed by adjusting footwear and by gradually stretching and developing the muscles of the calf. Sprained ankles are treated by a program of balance training, and shoulder and wrist injuries are treated with eccentric strengthening to build the muscles around these joints, contracting the muscles and lengthening them at the same time.
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Kalyuzhny, along with tennis professional Patrick Hirscht and orthopedic surgeon and ONS sports medicine specialist Paul Sethi, M.D. will hold a seminar on tennis injury prevention at 6:30 p.m. on May 10 at ONS, 6 Greenwich Office Park.