Tennis is one of the more popular sports on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Year round competition at all levels can unfortunately lead to various “overuse” injuries, and some athletes may even sustain acute traumatic injuries which may force them to miss time. An overview of common injuries as well as ways of preventing and treating them may help to keep a tennis player on the court.
Perhaps the most dreaded of all the overuse conditions is “Tennis Elbow,” or lateral epicondylitis. A degenerative process affecting the tendons on the lateral aspect of the elbow, which help to bend the wrist backwards, it is commonly seen in tennis players given that these muscles help resist impact when the racquet strikes the ball. Combined with their importance in gripping the handle, these muscles/tendons are prone to overuse if not properly prepared. Strengthening, a regular warm-up routine, and paying attention to grip size can help minimize the risk of developing the condition. Treatment often includes rest, therapy, braces, medications, and injections. While most cases improve with these conservative measures, occasionally surgery is needed.
The shoulder, like the elbow, is also predisposed to overuse injuries in tennis players. The serve is a complex motion that not only requires a balance of muscle coordination around the shoulder, but good core and lower extremity flexibility and strength to minimize risk of injury. The rotator cuff muscles can often become fatigued or weak, which can throw off the balance, and irritate surrounding tissues. The tendons and surrounding bursa can become inflamed, which may affect one even off the court. Again, conservative treatment is often all that is needed, not only focusing on the shoulder, but providing a total body program to minimize the stress on the shoulder during strokes. If symptoms persist, then further imaging and possible surgery may be needed, especially if a rotator cuff tear is present.
Lower Extremity Injuries
The legs are just as important as one’s arms on the tennis court. Rapid changes of direction, sudden stopping and acceleration, and jumping are often needed during a match. Muscle strains, knee and ankle sprains, and stress injuries can occur during these movements. Strains, such as “pulling” a hamstring or calf muscle, can often be prevented by adequate stretching prior to playing. An awkward step or twisting episode may result in a sprain. Ankle sprains almost always improve with conservative measures, but recurrent sprains may result in continued instability and require surgery. Knee sprain treatment depends on what is injured. While certain ligament and tendon issues around the knee can heal with non-operative treatment, meniscal and ACL tears often need surgery, but this is determined on a patient-to-patient basis. Quickly increasing the amount of tennis one is playing may predispose them to a stress fracture, either in the lower leg or foot. These require rest and off-loading of the limb, possibly with the assistance of crutches. Lastly, proper footwear is vital to the health of the lower extremities and minimizing the risks of these conditions.
Understanding the spectrum of conditions that can affect tennis players is often a good first step into learning ways to avoid them. Every patient/athlete is unique and working with them through their condition in a customized approach will best enable them to get back in the game.
Trevor Born, MD is a Sports Medicine Physician at Sarasota Orthopedic Associates treating upper and lower extremities with non-surgical treatment as well as minimally invasive options. Click HERE for more information.