Physical Therapist stresses strength building, flexibility and good mechanics
Along with the fun and friendly competition of a great game of tennis, comes the potential for tennis elbow, a degenerative condition of the tendon fibers which anchor the arm muscles used to extend or lift the wrist and hand. Those who suffer from tennis elbow will tell you that it can result in an abrupt end to your tennis season. Below, Tatyana Kalyuzhny, DPT, of ONS Physical Therapy offers the following precautions and tips on conditioning before you even make your first serve.
—Symptoms of tennis elbow often include persistent pain on the outside of the elbow. It usually begins with mild pain and can continue for weeks or months. The pain can be increased by pressing on the outside of the elbow or by a gripping or lifting motion. In severe cases, minimal movement of the elbow joint can send pain radiating into the forearm.
The first line of treatment for tennis elbow is usually rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medication. After an evaluation, a doctor may prescribe a physical therapy program to stretch and strengthen the muscles in forearm.
Players who lack proper conditioning are the ones who are most vulnerable to most injuries including tennis elbow. Even if you’re a great player with a beautiful swing, if you lack proper conditioning and core strength, you are putting your body at an increased risk for injury. Proper mechanics plays a crucial role in avoiding injuries. The slightest amount of improper alignment can place added stress on tendons and ligaments. You may not notice the ill effects initially, but damage may be cumulative and build to a problem over time.
Conditioning for tennis should include exercises in core and hip strength in multi-directional planes, exercises to strengthen the rotator cuff and elbow and eccentric strengthening, which involves contracting the muscles while simultaneously elongating them to help the body absorb shock. In addition to strengthening, players need to maintain flexibility of their calves, hips and shoulders for proper mechanical efficiency.
A good warm-up for a tennis player should include light stretching followed by a gentle, five- to ten- minute rally session on court that employs some lateral and forward shuffles. Warm-up should be gradual and should aim to slowly increase your heart rate and get the muscles ready for play. You should avoid walking onto the court and swinging with full power at the ball.
Six tips for preventing injuries
- Use proper technique. Have your swing and overall technique evaluated periodically by a professional.
- Incorporate a proper strengthening and conditioning program off the court.
- Maintain flexibility by stretching after play.
- Use proper equipment. Play with a racket that is the correct size, grip and weight for you.
- Wear proper footwear designed for tennis and not worn out.
- Avoid making sudden radical changes in your technique unless instructed by a professional.