Common tennis injuries and what to do about them

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Tennis is a fun game but like any sport, whether you’re a regular player or new to the game, you can find yourself suffering from an injury and wonder what to do about it.

To reduce your chances of injury make sure you warm up properly. You need to have all of your muscles, tendons and ligaments loose and strong before heading to the court to play. It’s also worth taking some time in selecting your racket. A professional will be able to offer guidance on this to ensure you have the best equipment for your individual needs.

In this blog we offer some advice on what to do if you find yourself suffering from some of the more frequently occurring injuries from playing tennis.

Common injuries from playing tennis

- Wrist Tendinopathy

Wrist injuries in tennis players are very common. They can be due to a single traumatic event or from chronic repetitive motions such as improper technique and equipment, or excessive wrist motion during the stroke.

A wrist tendinopathy is the overuse of one of the tendons around your wrist, usually the extensor tendon. Your tendons around your wrist have to deal with high loads when the ball impacts with the racket and can result in overstretching and micro-tearing of these tendons.

Wrist tendinopathy causes problems during serving and when hitting forehands and forehand volleys. Symptoms you may have include:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • heat and redness around the tendon in your wrist
  • extension and flexion of the wrist against resistance being painful.

Tendon injuries most often heal on their own after six weeks or more. Initially rest, ice and painkillers are recommended. Physiotherapy and specific exercises are often helpful to strengthen the muscles that stabilise your wrist and to build up your tennis-specific load and wrist strength. Steroid injections may be recommended if your pain is severe. Rarely surgical release of the tendon is performed.

- Ankle Sprain

A sprained ankle is the most common tennis injury. Most often, a sprained ankle is due to landing incorrectly on the outside of your foot and your foot turning too far inwards. Your lateral ankle ligaments may be overstretched or torn and cause instability of your ankle. You will feel pain and swelling around your ankle, mainly on the outside, and later your skin may become discoloured.

Initial treatment involves PRICE therapy:

  • Protection (wear shoes that enclose and support your feet)
  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation

You are encouraged to move your ankle joint as soon as you’re able to without crossing your pain threshold. If you’ve a severe ankle sprain, you may be advised not to use it for a while.

Once you can walk without pain, you can start to build up strength. You may be able to use your ankle fully after six to eight weeks, and return to sporting activities after eight to twelve weeks.

Physiotherapy treatment may help your recovery as well as decrease your pain and swelling, increase your range of motion, and strengthen and support your ankle.

- Achilles Tendon

An Achilles tendon injury is a degenerative condition of your large tendon at the back of your ankle, known as tendinopathy. It’s caused by chronic repetitive movements during running and jumping.

You will experience pain and stiffness at the back of your ankle which may have come on gradually over time and often be worse first thing in the morning.

You should rest the affected area initially, take painkillers and apply ice. For more persistent injuries, physiotherapy including stretching and strengthening exercise and massage, corticosteroid injections or shock wave therapy are often recommended.

In some cases, your doctor may suggest surgery to treat long-term injuries that have not improved following other treatments.

- Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow, as its name suggests, is the best-known injury in tennis players. It is most often an overuse injury of your muscles attached to your elbow and those used to straighten your wrist. These muscles become ruptured and torn, and scar tissue may develop. It can also occur suddenly for example if you mis-hit the ball.

Tennis elbow causes pain in your arm, wrist and fingers, and tenderness in your elbow. You may find lifting, gripping, twisting your wrist, opening a door and hitting backhand in tennis painful.

You may be advised to use rest, ice, painkillers, a brace and stretching techniques to treat your pain. Physiotherapy can be helpful using massage, an exercise program for mobility, and stretching and strengthening of your elbow, wrist, forearm, upper arm and hand. Corticosteroid injections and shock wave therapy are other treatments. If your pain persists, despite non-surgical measures then surgery may be recommended to remove the damaged part of the tendon.

- Impingement Syndrome

Shoulder impingement syndrome is a common cause of shoulder pain that occurs when lifting your arm between 60 and 120 degrees sideways, or when rotating your lifted arm inwards.  It’s caused by a tendon under the roof of your shoulder rubbing or catching on nearby tissue or bone when you lift your arm and affects your rotator cuff tendon.

Initially you should avoid playing tennis or doing activities that require you to repeatedly lift your arm above your head. An ice pack and pain killers may help. The next step is to start an exercise programme and a physiotherapist will be able to advise on exercises to help improve your shoulder posture and strengthen your muscles to alleviate the pain and improve your range of movement. Cortisone injections may be recommended to reduce the swelling and pain.

An operation to widen the space around your rotator cuff tendon may be an option if other treatments haven't helped.

- Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain is also a common problem among tennis players. It can be caused by:

  • Poor posture
  • Muscle dysfunction
  • Overuse and instability in the lower back.
  • For tennis players the combined rotation, flexion and extension of the back when serving may cause lower back pain.

Often lower back pain is non-specific, with no specific physical abnormalities causing your back pain such as muscles strains, but it can also be caused by structural abnormalities such as a herniated disc or a fracture.

Initial treatment involves rest, medications and ice to relieve pain and muscle spasm. If the pain persists then you should consult a physiotherapist for advice and treatment. Surgery may be required if you are diagnosed with a more serious complaint such as a slipped disc.

Treatment for Tennis Injuries

Tennis is a fun sport and we hope you enjoy playing without injury or wear and tear issues. However, if you have a tennis injury or suffer from chronic on-going niggles from playing tennis that just won’t go away then our team of experts at one of our sites, who are supported by the latest facilities, are here to help.

They can diagnose your problem and advise on the best treatment options for your individual needs. Many of our sites have industry leading physiotherapy departments that offer sports clinic for tennis players with injuries and sports conditions. We have a team of highly skilled orthopaedic surgeons who can also assess and treat your pain caused by playing tennis.

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