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MOVE

Don't let pain keep you out of the tennis game

Tennis is a one-sided sport, where you move the same way, using the same small set of muscles over and over. These repeated actions can cause over-use injuries, and the most common complaints I hear from my patients involve shoulder and elbow pain.

Shoulders

You may not want to hear it, but shoulder pain is often a result of poor mechanics, improper body position or a weak core. Tennis-related shoulder injuries usually occur in a few telling ways: 

  • Soreness of the rotator cuff muscles, which is made up of four small muscles that connect your arm to your shoulder.
  • Tenderness of the AC joint, which is where your collar bone meets your shoulder blade.
  • Inflammation of the sac of fluid that helps your AC joint glide, called shoulder bursitis. 

Fortunately, less pain—and likely a stronger game—are within reach with a few exercises. 

  • Foot drills improve your strength, balance and coordination. Quick feet are an asset to get you into good ball-strike position and improve your game overall.
  • Strengthen your core muscles—abs, lower back, hips, glutes and thighs—to avoid strain on your shoulders. Nearly 90 percent of tennis is shuffling side-to-side. Incorporating lateral movement exercises two to three times per week will ultimately get you to the ball faster during a match.
  • Incorporate shoulder exercises two to three times per week for stronger, more stable shoulder muscles. With high repetition and low-weight resistance (just a half to two-pound weights), you'll see and feel results. 

Elbows

Tennis elbow is when the tendons that connect the muscles of your lower arm, to the inner and outer bony knobs of your elbow, become swollen and irritated. Your wrist position, grip strength and vibration from the racket all may contribute to tennis elbow. Avoid tennis elbow and a trip to my office by taking a look at your tennis racket.

  • Choose a racket with a head size appropriate for your style of play. Many novice players will hit the ball off-center (not in the sweet spot), producing more vibrations. An over-sized or mid-oversize racket head will make it easier to hit the ball.
  • Use a racket that is the appropriate grip size for your hand. Too large or too small can cause stress on the elbow.
  • Your string tension should be appropriate for the size of the racket and your style of play.
  • Attach a string dampener—a small piece of rubber—at the base of your racket to absorb some of the string vibration.
  • Use eccentric strengthening exercises to build strength in your elbow and forearm. These exercises focus on lengthening your muscles while under resistance; a physical therapist can help identify the right exercises for you.

Turn to a tennis pro or tennis shop for help assessing your grip size, string tension and head size—it's what they are there for. Other professionals, like physical therapists, can help you develop a good strength-training plan to improve your tennis game and prevent injury.

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