WEST ORANGE – For millions of players across the country tennis is a year-round sport, but as the weather turns warmer, more people take to the courts and play even more frequently. Indoors or out, at local courts or at center court at Wimbledon, fitness is the key for tennis players to perform at their best and avoid injury.
“Each year, thousands of recreational tennis players experience injuries ranging from overuse injuries to the shoulder or elbow to injuries of the lower back, knees and ankles,” explains Michele Beltram, a physical therapist at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation.
“Tennis is a complex physical sport that requires strength, flexibility, balance, coordination, speed and agility. To help build fitness levels and avoid injury, it is important that individuals participate in a proper warm-up and stretching regimen, especially if they are playing more at this time of year.”
Players at all levels of the game should include endurance, flexibility and muscle-conditioning exercises in any tennis fitness program. In addition, individuals should always check with their physician before beginning any exercise program or participating in athletic activity.
As a leader in the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation, Kessler Institute offers the following general recommendations to help avoid injury – and work to improve play.
- Warm up properly. A warm-up can consist of a light jog or brisk walk around the courts for five to ten minutes.
- Perform stretching exercises for the trunk, shoulders, wrists and legs, including hamstrings, calves and ankles, to build flexibility.
- Begin the practice warm-up with shorter distance strokes, move back as you loosen up, and then practice a few serves.
- Once the game begins, keep moving by doing light jumps or shuffles from side to side between games.
- When serving or hitting an overhead, try not to arch your back unnecessarily. Instead, bend your knees and raise your heels, so that upper body weight is more evenly balanced.
- When serving, bend the arm. Serving with a straight arm and firm wrist will transfer all shock from the wrist to the elbow.
- Start backhand swings from your shoulder. Avoid placing your thumb behind the racket’s grip for more support on the backhand.
- Bend your arm on forehand shots, then your biceps and shoulder will take the force of the swing rather than the elbow.
Despite training and conditioning, injuries may still occur. The most common tennis injuries include rotator cuff tendinitis, tennis elbow, wrist strains, back pain, anterior (front) knee pain involving the knee cap, calf and Achilles tendon injuries, ankle sprains, and tennis toe.
• Rotator Cuff Tendinitis is an inflammation of the tendons of the rotator cuff muscles or the bursa (fluid filled sacs) that protect the shoulder joint. This occurs when shoulder muscles are not strong enough and the repetitive movement of the serve or overhead movements causes an impingement.
• Tennis elbow (Lateral epicondylitis) is a common condition that often results from overuse or improper body positioning or strokes in which the elbow is ahead of the racquet. In some cases, hitting with a two-hand backhand can help relieve the stress on the muscles that attach to the bones at the elbow.
• Injuries to the lower back, knees, calves and ankles may occur when reaching for or returning a shot and the body is extended, running, or when quick, twisting movement of the legs occurs. Muscle-strengthening and overall conditioning exercises can help to minimize the risk of injury.
• Tennis toe occurs when the toes are jammed against the front of the sneaker during quick starts and stops. This painful condition can be preventing by wearing cushioned socks, proper fitting footwear and keeping toenails short.
Individuals are advised to discontinue play if experiencing any pain, and ice the affected area; if pain persists, see a doctor.
In addition, an evaluation by a physical therapist can help to assess your strength, range of motion, overall conditioning and technique. An individualized exercise program can be developed which can help a player reach his or her optimal level of function.
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