As Wimbledon season closes, the number of people taking up tennis, or whose interest in the sport has been rekindled by the Centre Court action, is predicted to rise as it does every year.
Tennis is a great form of cardiovascular exercise, as well as being a lot fun, but it also carries a high risk of injury, particularly for novices or people who are not accustomed to competitive racket sports.
Two thirds of tennis injuries arise as a result of overusing muscles that are unaccustomed to being worked in that way, affecting the legs, knees, wrists, elbows and shoulders. The remainder of injuries are caused by some kind of traumatic injury or fall.
So, what types of injuries are common and can anything be done to prevent them?
Here are the top four tennis injuries that we treat most frequently in clinic:
(1) Tennis leg
Tennis leg is an incomplete tear or rupture of the calf muscles in the lower leg. The calf muscles include the superficial gastrocnemius, the larger of the lower leg muscles, and the soleus, the smaller, deeper muscle that runs under the gastrocnemius. Playing tennis can also result in damage to the plantaris muscle, which is the thin muscle running from the back of the knee down through the calf to the heel.
It is often caused by a sudden jumping or pushing off movement and, although common when playing tennis this is not the only way to sustain such an injury.
Symptoms include a sudden severe pain in the calf or at the back of the knee. It may be difficult to stand on tiptoes and moving the ankle may also be painful. Wearing the correct footwear can help to prevent this type of injury and it is important not to continue exercising if you experience this type of pain.
(2) Achilles tendon injuries
Unlike tendonitis, which is caused by inflammation of the tendon, Achilles tendon injuries are normally the result of progressive degeneration of the tendon.
Repeated running and jumping during tennis matches are a common cause of this type of injury which results in pain in the heel which gradually worsens and is exacerbated by exercising.
If it is left untreated, a damaged Achilles tendon can become permanent, or even rupture, resulting in loss of function and pain even when resting. It is essential to seek medical treatment if you suspect you have this type of injury.
(3) Muscle strain
These are extremely common, particularly among novice players. They are the result of sudden moves or muscles that have not undergone a sufficient warm-up.
Be sure to stretch for at least five minutes before starting to play. Use slow, deliberate movements rather than jerky movements and try to hold the stretch for 30 seconds or more.
A coach or sports injury specialist will be able to recommend an effective warm-up regime. If you do experience a muscle strain it is important to rest and not to return to playing too soon or you could develop long-term problems.
(4) Stress fractures
A stress fracture may occur if you increase your repetitive training regime too quickly, without allowing appropriate interval rest days. Bones are living tissue which need time to heal any micro-cracks from excessive repetitive exercises. If the bone is not given enough time to do this, with time it can lead to a stress fracture.
A stress fracture is commonly a subtle crack rather than a traumatic break in the bone, nevertheless it is painful and debilitating. They occur most commonly in the hip, foot or leg. To prevent stress fractures you need to build up your training regime gradually to strengthen your bones and muscles. It is important to wear the correct footwear.
Also common in tennis players (although not something that we treat) are:
This aptly named injury is common amongst tennis players, although it is not exclusively caused by playing tennis but by any kind of repetitive arm motion, such as painting and decorating. It results from overusing the extensor wrist muscles, which is the muscle that is subjected to most force when the tennis ball hits the racket.
Rotator cuff injuries are common in tennis players. The rotator cuff is the tough sheath of tendons and ligaments that support the shoulder joint and help to keep it in position. During vigorous activity, such as tennis serves, the rotator cuff can become tired, weakened and even torn, causing the ball at the top of the arm bone to move about in its socket. This can irritate surrounding tissues, causing the tendons and bursa to become inflamed. This can cause considerable pain which may interfere with your ability to perform everyday activities.
If you experience any kind of injury while playing tennis, the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevation) is an effective first response and if symptoms continue you should visit your doctor.
It’s important not to push through the pain and continue playing as you may cause long-term damage.