Updated June 2021
Because it’s not a contact sport, we don’t always think of tennis as a high-risk game. But tennis is a fast-paced activity in which players can sustain a number of injuries, especially on hard-surface courts. Here are the four most common tennis injuries and how to help prevent them.
Never Miss a Beat!
Subscribe to Our HealthBeat Newsletter!
Get Healthy Tips Sent to Your Phone!
1. Tennis Elbow
What is tennis elbow?
Tennis elbow is an overuse injury to the tendons and muscles around your outer elbow, usually caused by repeated bending of the wrist (as when using a tennis racket). This condition occurs in athletes and nonathletes alike, but it’s most common in tennis players and other racket-sport athletes.
If you suffer from tennis elbow, one or more tendons around the joint may become inflamed, resulting in pain and sometimes a burning sensation. Continuing to practice and compete can aggravate the condition and increase pain.
Treating tennis elbow
The most important treatment for tennis elbow is resting the joint. Icing the elbow can also help reduce inflammation. Regular stretching and strengthening through physical therapy can help improve the condition and prevent re-injury.
Preventing tennis elbow
Always warm up and cool down before and after playing tennis. Wear a supportive brace while playing to reduce your risk of developing tennis elbow.
Make sure your racket is strung properly and that your grip technique is correct. Racket strings that are too tight, or gripping the racquet too tightly, can increase your risk of developing tennis elbow.
You might also like…
2. Stress Fractures
What is a stress fracture?
A stress fracture is a small crack in a bone, which can result from repetitive movements or overuse. Running and jumping repeatedly while playing tennis can put stress on the bones, resulting in fractures in the foot, leg, or lower back.
These fractures may cause pain and swelling that comes on slowly and gets worse over time.
Court surfaces and stress fractures
Hard tennis courts are primarily made of asphalt or concrete with an acrylic sealant, resulting in a much greater impact on your body. Each time you land on a hard court surface increases the risk of stress fractures.
Clay and grass courts are much softer, which reduces stress on your bones. Alternatively, the slippery nature of these courts can lead to muscle strains or sprains, especially when sliding goes too far or you haven’t properly incorporated flexibility work into your overall training program.
Treating stress fractures
The best treatment for a stress injury is rest, which limits aggravation, gives the bone time to heal, and prevents further damage. More serious fractures may require immobilization by way of a brace or boot. Once the fracture has started to heal, physical therapy can help strengthen the bone and surrounding tissue.
Preventing stress fractures
Be sure to warm up and stretch before playing. Take breaks and don’t increase the intensity of your training all at once. Alternating tennis and other high-impact activities with low-impact activities like biking or swimming can also help prevent stress fractures.
3. Ankle Sprains
What is a sprained ankle?
A sprained ankle involves a ligament in the ankle stretching too far or, in serious cases, tearing. Falling or landing awkwardly on your ankle, changing direction too quickly, and walking or running on uneven ground can cause an ankle sprain.
Court surfaces and sprained ankles
An ankle sprain can happen on any court surface because of the multidirectional nature of playing tennis. Frequent running and jumping also can increase your risk of landing incorrectly and turning your ankle. Clay courts can pose a greater risk for an ankle sprain. Because the clay surface is softer, the side of your foot can dig into it more easily, resulting in a turned ankle.
Treating sprained ankles
Sprained ankles usually heal over time with rest, immobilization, ice, and, in some cases, taking anti-inflammatory medicine. Because sprains can range from mild to severe, you should seek medical attention if you injure your ankle to make sure it’s treated correctly.
Preventing sprained ankles
Supportive footwear and ankle supports can reduce the risk of a sprain. Try to avoid uneven surfaces when playing tennis, and always warm up and cool down before and after physical activity.
4. Shoulder Injuries
What shoulder injuries can occur when playing tennis?
Some tennis moves, like the overhead “slam” and the serve, can result in rotator cuff tendonitis. These movements place pressure on the tendons in the shoulder, causing inflammation, pain, swelling, and restricted motion.
A tennis player also may experience impingement syndrome, which occurs when tendons become trapped in your shoulder as a result of rotator cuff tendonitis. This condition causes pain when you reach above your head or behind your back.
Treating shoulder injuries
As with other overuse injuries, these injuries heal best with rest. Avoid movements that put pressure on your shoulder. Ice, anti-inflammatory medicines, and physical therapy may also help to ease pain.
Preventing shoulder injuries
Get plenty of rest between physical activities, and alternate tennis sessions with other kinds of activity. Talk to a physical therapist or athletic trainer about specific stretches and exercises that may help strengthen your shoulder and prevent injury.
With these tips, you can help prevent the most common tennis injuries while getting in a healthy workout. To learn more or schedule an appointment with UPMC Sports Medicine, please call 1-855-937-7678 or visit our website.
About Sports Medicine
Sports and physical activity bring with them a potential for injury. If you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury – or improve athletic performance – UPMC Sports Medicine and the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program can help. We serve athletes and active people of all ages and experience levels. Our experts partner with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers, and about 100 other high school, college, and regional teams and events throughout Pennsylvania – working daily to build better athletes.