Written By: Matthew Burns PT, DPT – SportsCare Chatham Clinical Director
At SportsCare, we treat people of all ages and activity levels, including a lot of weekend warriors and active exercisers. One of our favorite populations to treat is that of the tennis, pickle and paddle ball variety.
We’re here to talk a little about some of the most common tennis injuries we come across in our clinics, as well as what to do about it to get you back onto the courts this coming fall/winter.
1. Tennis Elbow
The Injury: Aka Lateral Epicondylalgia is commonly associated with pain along the outside of the elbow. It can often feel like a burning sensation and can also result in weak grip strength. This happens when the tendons that connect the muscles of the forearm to the elbow get overworked and inflamed.
The Fix: A couple of things to look at from an equipment perspective, both a small grip and a tighter string tension can contribute to increased stress across the forearm and elbow. If you’re currently using a one-handed backhand, a switch to a two-hander can help. Lastly give this exercise a shot in order to build up some strength of the wrist extensors on the backside of the forearm.
2. Rotator Cuff Injury
The Injury: One of the most common tennis injuries, especially in the more “seasoned” players. The rotator cuff is comprised of four muscles that are used to dynamically create stability of the shoulder and are stressed most during the overhead serve. Injuries in tennis most often happen as a result of overuse without proper rest. Symptoms most often include pain, tenderness, and weakness of the shoulder.
The Fix: Finding the appropriate racquet with regards to weight and balance is the first place you want to start. Technique is also important and making sure that you’re using more of your legs and rotating through your hips will help to create some momentum from the ground up and reduce the stress and workload on the shoulder. Lastly, make sure that you’re listening to your body, taking rests when needed, and get in some type of warm-up before playing with some banded work like shown here.
3. Knee (Patellar) Tendinitis
The Injury: More commonly referred to as jumper’s knee and seen in the basketball community, is also a common injury seen on the tennis court. With a lot of quick start and stop action and repetitive small jumps/hops, symptoms can develop in the front of the knee. There is usually pain, tenderness, and some warmth directly below the knee cap, which can make kneeling, stairs, and jumping all difficult and painful.
The Fix: Both the issue and solution when it comes to this tennis injury involve the muscles along the front side of the thigh. Making sure the hip flexors are loose (1st video) and the quadriceps are strong (2nd video) are key factors in reducing the likelihood of knee issues. To be well prepared, you should incorporate some plyometric and jumping/landing activities into your routine off the courts as well.
4. Lateral Ankle Sprain
The Injury: Ankle sprains are often involved in any activity or sport with lateral movement and tennis is no exception. With tennis being a sport that requires a lot of agility, a quick change of direction can lead to an over-stretching and sprain of the lateral ankle ligaments. Pain, stiffness, and swelling will often ensue after the injury and will result in difficulties with gait.
The Fix: Having a shoe with a good fit that offers medial/lateral stability. The most important factor in finding an appropriate shoe is going by what feels the best on your feet when testing out different pairs. For both a preventative and rehabilitative exercise, give ankle CAR’s a go. Exposing your ankle to all ranges of motion consistently not only maintains the health of the joints but also strengthens the ankle in multiple positions, making you less susceptible to injury. Performing footwork drills, with or without an agility ladder, will also help to make the ankles more resilient.
5. Stress Reactions/Fracture
The Injury: Stress reactions and fractures can occur when there is a lot of compressive force going through the spine at its end ranges. Because of the movements involved in the serve (i.e. hyperextension, side-bending, and rotation), this places significant stress across the lower lumbar spine where pars interarticularis injuries can happen. If not managed properly it can lead to subsequent injury. Often soreness and stiffness will be experienced with activity with this tennis injury.
The Fix: Proper technique is paramount on the serve. Because it is the most complex of all of the swings and requires the most coordination, good technique can help attenuate and transmit force through the body in an efficient manner. In addition to that, good core stability is a must for tennis players with all of the rotation that’s involved. Here a couple of exercises to achieve just that.
Our new Director Matthew Burns has a large background in the sport and played collegiately for all four years at the University of Connecticut. Find out more about his background and expertise below.
About Matthew Burns, PT, DPT
Matthew received his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Sacred Heart University. Prior to that, he received his BS in Exercise Science with a minor in Nutrition from the renowned Department of Kinesiology at the University of Connecticut. While attending school there, he also walked on the Varsity Men’s Tennis Team, where he contributed as a valuable member for all four years.
He operates under the Bill Bowerman mantra “If you have a body, you are an athlete”. His interest in continuing to learn and evolve as a clinician has seen him earn a myriad of additional credentialing in highly reputable certifications, which include and are not limited to: Explain Pain (NOI Group: EP), Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA), Active Release Technique (ART), Spinal Manipulative Therapy (AAMT), and Functional Range Conditioning (FRC).
With the breadth of knowledge he brings forward, he looks to treat each person with a patient-centered approach to work together and create an individualized plan, which focuses on the largest contributing factors in their lives in order to ameliorate their dysfunction and optimize their rehabilitation and potential.