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Wed, Jan. 29

Column: You're bound to get tennis injuries, but they are treatable

Playing competitive tennis can be tough enough, let alone when you have a nagging injury to contend with.

Life as an athlete leaves all kinds of situations that can occur to make moving your body tougher than it should be. Sore muscles, shoulder pain, tennis elbow, a pulled muscle, gimpy knee, or even split skin on a finger. Having something not working the way it should hampers your performance - physically and many times mentally.

Guess the only thing nice about playing with an injury is that it gives a built in excuse when we're losing. "Yea, normally I would've had that, but my knee is acting up again."

In my research, the top five tennis injuries are: sprained ankles, shoulder pain, calf strains, stress fractures of the back, and tennis elbow.

Serving is a throwing motion with a good deal of body rotation. Groundstrokes and hitting from the backcourt are shots designed around good positioning and using both sides of your body, while the net game consists of quick movements. So in most cases injuries come from overuse while performing the same motion over and over again.

If you're just getting back at the game or playing sporadically it would be a great idea to lead your body through an adjustment period of getting the muscles you'll use in an exercise program. A bit of a program designed for strength and conditioning for your specific needs will go a long way toward injury prevention. Come on now, you wouldn't take your family car to the race tracks and really expect to win any races, right? Then let's not take a body that isn't ready to play two hours of tennis and see if it will survive with no problems going full bore.

Here are some tips that just might help you survive your tennis season in a manner that you and your body might appreciate.

1. Warm up slowly. Start at the half-court line and play easy shots back and forth to let the muscles and body warm up. Let the blood flow to the muscles you'll be using.

2. Dress for the occasion. Proper fitting shoes with good cushion. The right clothes for the weather you're playing in. Sunscreen so your skin survives, and a hat is a good idea.

3. Tape your fingers so you don't get blisters.

4. Make sure you replenish fluids. Hydrate properly. Your body will work better.

5. Don't push your body over the limit. Stop when you know you should. Playing one more set when you know you shouldn't might make you pay a price you'll regret.

6. If you're a weekend warrior, don't act like you're a professional athlete. Swinging harder than you should will hurt you more than your opponent, especially the next day.

7. Work on strengthening your abdominal and back muscles as well as a bit of flexibility for your sport.

8. If you have a muscle pull or tear, make sure it's wrapped and that you've rested it long enough before you jump back in and play full tilt.

9. Trim your toenails. If you've reached the point of ever having lost a nail or two you'll remember to do this easily.

10. If you've sprained an ankle, make sure you get a brace to wear and/or tape it. It'll be weak for six weeks so do what you should to not re-injure it.

11. Bad hips or knees? Play on softer courts if that's possible and at the least, spend the extra money for shoes and socks that will cushion those feet and joints better.

12. Bad technique might be the cause of certain injuries and if that's the case, take a few lessons and fix the problem.

13. A tennis/sports addict may be hurting their body from playing too many times a week. All machines need to get enough rest, nutrition and sleep to run properly. You too!

14. Recovering from an injury? Don't be impatient. Let your body heal with the time it takes to do it properly.

15. Last but not least, if you're recovering from a major injury, don't return to play until you've received clearance by a health care professional.

A couple additional thoughts after an injury occurs are: RICE, which stands for Rest/Ice/Compression/Elevation. Keep wraps, braces, ice, water, ibuprofen and tape in your tennis bag. You never know when those things will come in handy.

OK, I think you're ready now. Tennis season has officially begun!

Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 40 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or choward4541@q.com.

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