Tennis season has now commenced! With the fantastic conclusion of the Australian Open, the courts are flooding with the sounds of serves and shuffles, starting from those picking up a racquet for the first time to competitive players looking to score a win. Unfortunately, it’s also the time when injuries are most widespread. Many players are only starting to get back from the holiday seasons and extended lockdowns. As both a tennis enthusiast and physiotherapist, here are five easy ways to help prevent a trip to the physio.
- Warming Up
Do not underestimate the importance of a good quality warm-up. I know the temptation is to start belting forehands straight away. But, if you’ve watched the Australian Open, you’d probably see the world’s best preparing behind the scenes before their match.
Warm-ups are more than just static stretching (which by itself does not prevent injury). They involve a series of exercises, like strengthening, mobility and tennis-specific movements. These help increase blood flow to the muscles, increase joint flexibility and improve reflexes to prepare your body for any gruelling session.
Try dedicating 5–10 minutes of warming up before a coaching session or set. Even rallying along the service line is better than nothing!
2. Choosing an Appropriate Tennis Racquet
The term “try before you buy” has never been more relevant given our newfound love of online shopping. While shops like Amazon may offer convenience, they might single-handedly be the reason for your trip to the physio. Especially if you’ve just started tennis, it’s essential to feel the racquet in your hand.
Factors to consider are the racquet’s weight, length, head size and weight distribution (this is an excellent guide about finding the right balance). Choosing the wrong racquet can increase the risk of injury, particularly through the wrist and elbow.
If you’re in the market for a racquet, try a specialty tennis store such as Tennis Warehouse or Tennis Only, where you can demo some pieces of equipment. If you’ve just started, consider finding a lighter racquet (less than 300g) and a head-light frame (great article describing this here).
3. Get Tennis Lessons
Tennis lessons are essential, particularly for those who have just started. Hiring a coach who can teach you the basic techniques will carry you through your entire tennis career.
While your swing may seem perfect during your game but it can be easy to develop unnoticeably bad habits. That is — until you notice certain aches and pains. Minor faults in your tennis technique can lead to extra stress and strain throughout some areas around the body.
For example, I noticed that beginner tennis players were more likely to develop tennis elbow. While there are many potential contributing factors, a common trend I observed was the lack of trunk rotation in starting players. Instead of a strong transfer of power from the legs to the upper body, the arms need to work significantly harder to achieve the same effect. Ultimately causing stress and strain to the elbow, wrist and forearm.
An experienced coach will point out these types of small flaws and prevent you from developing these habits in the first place. At the same time, you’ll be improving your game whilst reducing your risk of injuries.
4. More Sets or Bust
Watching tennis players at the Australian Open endure hours of impressive rallies is inspiring. Unfortunately, we are not professional tennis players, and most of us don’t have the conditioning to play at a high-level over multiple sets. Yet, some players will try to do so and risk the chance of developing injuries (I am DEFINITELY guilty of this).
Playing during the harsh Australian summer can be challenging. Combined with the lengthy nature of tennis, it is a recipe for fatigue. As we begin to play harder for longer, the forces created from our muscles start to drain. This occurs as our energy reserves and coordination starts to tumble.
These changes in our body lead to drops in performance, less efficient techniques and more laboured movements. Inevitably, this increases the chance of injury. For instance, one study found that the movement of the shoulder in healthy tennis players began to deteriorate after being fatigued. After 24 hours of rest, these movements returned to normal.
While playing like our favourite players is tempting, try starting off playing short sessions and matches. Especially if you’ve just started or had a long time off, it may be worthwhile to begin with a short set or session first.
5. Watch Out for Aches and Pains-
Many common tennis injuries, such as lateral epicondylitis (i.e. tennis elbow) and wrist tendonitis, are classified as ‘overuse injuries.’ These are conditions that are caused by the repetitive and high impact nature of tennis.
With proper rest, medical management and any necessary technique changes — these types of injuries won’t hold you back from tennis too much. But, if you continue to push through these conditions — you risk developing long-term injuries, time off sports and needing more aggressive treatments.
The good news is that these types of conditions can usually be identified early. If you’re experiencing aches and pains that persist for more than 3–4 days, there’s a chance it is related to the early stages of a brewing injury. Another give-away that it isn’t just workout soreness is that the pain is located around your joints and flares up every time you play tennis.
If you’re experiencing similar aches and pains, try recovery strategies like heat, ice, and rest. However, there is most likely an underlying movement or technique issue that needs to be corrected. Even though it might not seem concerning yet, these types of injuries can become persistent and prevent you from being active. Seeking physiotherapy treatment is recommended for a proper assessment, diagnosis, technique recommendations and management plans.
If you suspect that you have an injury, please contact or book in with one of our friendly physiotherapists at (03) 9817 2827. Overcome your aches and pains so that you can continue playing tennis throughout the year!