While most people know that tennis is a great heart-healthy sport, it has other health benefits as well, which include burning calories, improving balance and mobility, and strengthening muscles.
But these health benefits can quickly turn into strains and injuries, however, without proper stretching and conditioning.
Perhaps the most talked about injury is tennis or golf elbow. “Both tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are common afflictions associated with repetitive sports such as tennis and other racquet sports,” says Phil Vande Pol, a physical therapist with EvergreenHealth Rehabilitation Services.
Phil says that tennis elbow (pain on the inside of the elbow) and golfer’s elbow (pain on the outside of the elbow) are conditions that are often by-products of poor technique or failing to properly warm up the whole body.
“Both of these injuries can occur with repetitive wrist and arm motions,” he explains. “Plus, when your body is not conditioned properly, the stress felt in one area can transmit to other places, like the elbow or even the shoulder or neck.”
And it’s not just the arms, shoulders, and neck that are at risk for injury.
In fact, according to Phil, the most common tennis injuries occur with the lower extremities. “Knee and ankle injuries are pretty common with tennis and racquet sports because of the very abrupt starts and stops,” he says.
Whether you’re a seasoned tennis player or taking the sport up for the first time, pre-game stretching is one of the most important precautions you can take to minimize injury for any part of the body.
“Stretching warms up the muscles and joints and has been shown to reduce the risk of injury,” Phil explains.
For tennis players, Phil has put together some videos to demonstrate a few short stretching exercises:
Shoulders: “When shoulders are appropriately warmed up and mobile, you’ll have a better delivery throughout the entire arm and shoulder,” he says. Try these warm-ups:
Forearm: “Light stretching of the forearm also loosens up the entire arm, including the elbow,” Phil explains. “Straighten the elbow and pull the fingers up and back and then alternate to pull the fingers down in the opposite direction.”
Legs and knees: While the arms swing the racquet, the knees and legs are used quite a bit in tennis, and they need to be warmed up beforehand as well.
In the event of an injury to any part of the body, Phil says the best first step is ice and rest.
“Ice the strained or injured part of the body three to four times a day, lay off of it for a couple of days,” he says. “If pain persists when you return to play, or shows up in normal daily activities, it’s time to seek medical attention.”
Phil does acknowledge that pain discomfort is not uncommon when first starting tennis or before the hitting technique is perfected.
“Off center hits, for example, put a large amount of stress on the arm because it torques the racquet in the hand and causes a strain,” he says. “It’s important to put in the time to develop the right technique.”
Visit our Healthiest Best Exercise homepage for more great ideas to work activity into your daily routine.