The Championships, more commonly known as Wimbledon, is widely considered the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world. Since 1877, the contest has hosted the most talented professional tennis players and seen some of the most heated matches of all time. With such high-level talent and competition, it’s not uncommon for athletes to face injuries during their training, or in some instances, the event itself.
As Wimbledon heads into their final rounds, we’re highlighting the most common tennis injuries along with the treatment for them and some prevention strategies to help avoid them.
Lateral epicondylitis, commonly known as tennis elbow, refers to the inflammation of the group of tendons located on the lateral aspect of the forearm. These tendons connect the muscles of the forearm to the elbow and work to help extend and rotate the wrist. These are the movements that a tennis player uses to swing their racquet and hit a ball. When overused, this group of tendons and muscles can get highly irritated and inflamed. Players may complain of elbow/forearm pain or difficulty hitting or gripping a racquet.
Treatment for tennis elbow can include rest, anti-inflammatory treatment, and/or a brace to help reduce the tension force placed on these tendons. Physical therapy can also help in strengthening the lateral epicondyle musculature and decreasing inflammation. In more severe cases, a physician may recommend surgery.
Tennis elbow can be avoided by getting the right fitting racquet with the appropriate string tension. Stretching and strengthening of the wrist and elbow prior to playing can also help prevent this type of injury from occurring.
Rotator Cuff Injury
The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, subscapularis) in the shoulder which work to stabilize the joint while also lifting and rotating the arm. In a sport like tennis where the goal is to generate as much force as possible by lifting and rotating the arm overhead, rotator cuff injuries are very common. Players with rotator cuff pathology may complain of weakness and pain in the shoulder joint.
Treatment for a rotator cuff injury is physical therapy first. A physical therapist will evaluate and address any deficiencies in strength or range of motion of the shoulder joint, while also helping alleviate pain through manual techniques and modalities. In some instances, a physician may recommend a steroid injection to help reduce inflammation of the rotator cuff or surgery to repair any tear.
A tennis player’s warm up should include a lot of dynamic exercises and stretches for the entire shoulder girdle, including the rotator cuff as well as scapular stabilizing muscles. A shoulder strengthening program should be performed throughout the season to maintain good mechanics and help prevent the risk of injury.
Patellar tendinitis, also known as tennis knee or jumper’s knee, is a common injury amongst tennis players who perform a lot of quick changes in speed or direction. With patellar tendinitis, the tendon that runs over the patella (kneecap) and attaches to the tibia (shin bone) becomes overused and inflamed, causing jumping or running to be painful.
Treatment for patellar tendinitis is not dissimilar from other types of tendinopathies (like tennis elbow). Rest, anti-inflammatory medication, and/or bracing can be helpful in reducing discomfort and calming the tendon down. A comprehensive stretching program of the hip flexors, quadriceps and hamstrings may also be recommended as a part of tennis knee treatment.
The stretches recommended to treat patellar tendinitis can also help in the prevention of it. Quadriceps strengthening is also tremendously beneficial in helping avoid this injury.
While tennis is typically plagued with overuse and chronic injuries, the sport does involve rapid changes in direction which can increase the risk of athletes sustaining an ankle sprain. Ankle sprains occur when the joint is twisted or overloaded in a manner leading to the stretching or tearing of the ligaments. Symptoms of an ankle sprain can include pain, difficulty weightbearing, swelling, stiffness or instability.
Treatment of an ankle sprain includes immediately addressing the symptoms – trying to reduce pain and swelling while restoring range of motion. Secondary to that, non-operative treatment will also involve the strengthening of the ankle musculature and improving balance and proprioception.
The prevention of ankle sprains also includes the strengthening of the surrounding musculature, along with proprioception and agility training. Proper footwear can also help reduce the risk of ankle injury.
Back injuries are fairly common for tennis players because of the amount of trunk movement required to serve and return the ball. Serving a tennis ball requires hyperextension of the trunk and returning the ball involves frequent side bending and rotation to keep a ball in play. These stressful forces placed on the spine at extreme ranges of motion can result in spine injury, such as spondylolisthesis which is a stress fracture of the pars interarticularis of the vertebrae.
Treatment of back pain is typically a course or rest along with addressing any pain or discomfort. Once the symptoms have been alleviated, usually some sort of core stability and strengthening program is recommended.
Preventing back injury will also include a core strengthening program, as well as improving any lower or upper body flexibility deficiencies. Practicing good serving and hitting technique is paramount in avoiding spine injury, as is getting a good warm up and stretch before playing.
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these tennis injuries (or want to try to prevent them for the fall season), physical therapy can help! At Excel, one of our expert clinicians can evaluate you to determine which areas need attention and focus. Find an EXCEL near you or request an appointment today!
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