Looking for a good way to stay in shape and have fun? Try tennis. Whether you're a member of a club with an organized league or just like to head out to the public courts once in a while, tennis is an easy game to get started playing. Just get yourself some tennis shoes, a racquet, and a friend, and you're ready to go.
Serious injuries in tennis are rare, but there are some injuries you need to be aware of before you start playing. We've all heard of "tennis elbow," which is one of a number of overuse injuries that can result from playing tennis. Traumatic injuries are also a possibility, from sprained ankles to torn ligaments and even concussions.
To learn how to minimize your risk of injury while playing tennis, follow these safety tips:
Why Is Tennis Safety Important?
Tennis injuries fall into two categories: cumulative injuries that result from overuse (called overuse injuries), and acute or traumatic injuries caused by sudden force or impact. Most injuries in tennis are overuse injuries.
Overuse injuries include tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis), tendonitis of the shoulder, wrist, and Achilles, growth plate injuries, and stress fractures.
Acute injuries include ankle sprains, muscle strains, knee injuries (including ACL tears), and back injuries.
Tennis gear may seem pretty straightforward, but putting some thought into the racquet, socks, and shoes you use can go a long way toward preventing injuries.
Here are a few basic guidelines to follow when choosing equipment:
Racquet. Using a racquet that is too light or too heavy can increase your risk of shoulder and elbow injuries. Likewise, a racquet with the wrong grip size or the wrong amount of tension in the strings can be hard on your wrists and arms. Consult a trained professional at a tennis specialty store to make sure you get a racquet that is appropriate for your size and skill level.
Sneakers. Be sure to get shoes that are specifically designed for tennis and the court surface. Tennis shoes should support your heel and help keep your ankle from rolling, and decrease side-to-side sliding, which can take a toll on your ankles and feet. Additionally, if you plan to play on courts made of asphalt, concrete, or other hard surfaces, heel inserts may minimize the stress on your lower back.
Socks. Choose socks made from synthetic fabrics rather than cotton, as these will help keep your feet dry and prevent blisters. For added support, you might want to consider wearing two pairs of socks or specially padded tennis socks.
Before You Play
As with any sport, staying in shape will help your game and help you prevent injuries. This means getting plenty of exercise and eating right year round. Also, as with all sports, you should warm up and stretch before playing tennis. Do some jumping jacks or run in place for a minute or two to warm up your muscles, and then stretch your arms, wrists, shoulders, and legs. Dynamic stretching uses many muscle groups in a sport specific manner and can be incorporated into your warm-up.
Inspect the court where you will be playing before you start. If it's a hard court, be sure there are no cracks or holes that might trip you up. Be sure there are no loose tennis balls or other objects on or near the court. If you plan to play at night, be sure the court is well lit. And never play on a wet court, regardless of whether it's a hard court, soft court, or grass court. Even the slightest amount of moisture on a court will make it slippery — and that can lead to injury.
Make sure there is first aid available wherever you play, as well as someone who knows how to administer it. Be sure to note the location of a nearby phone in the event of an emergency. Lastly, drink plenty of water before, during, and after you play. If it's a sunny day, apply sunscreen to any exposed skin, and wear a hat and light-colored clothing to help keep yourself cool.
Using proper technique will not only make you a better tennis player, it will also help to prevent injuries. For instance, when serving or hitting an overhand, try not to arch your back too much, and instead focus on bending your knees and raising your heels. If you have questions about your technique, consider taking a lesson from a trained instructor.
Have water on hand to drink during breaks in play, and try to take some time to rest in the shade between games and sets. If the handle of your racquet becomes wet from perspiration, dry it frequently to avoid getting blisters on your hands.
If you feel any pain or discomfort in your joints or muscles, stop playing immediately. Don't resume playing until you have completely recovered. Playing through pain will only make injuries worse.
If you get an acute or traumatic injury, seek immediate medical attention. If you've had a previous injury, get expert advice on taping or bracing your injured body part.
A Few Other Reminders
Proper stretching, strengthening, and warm-up help prevent common overuse injuries.
Give yourself plenty of time off to rest between matches and training sessions. Overtraining is one of the most common causes of tennis injuries. Your body needs time to recover. This will not only help prevent injuries, it will also help you get the most out of your abilities.
Avoid playing in adverse weather conditions. Hot weather presents a real risk of heat-related illness and cold weather can lead to muscle injury if you don’t warm up enough.
Before you play a match, practice hitting with a friend or consider taking lessons from a professional instructor. This will allow you to learn proper technique. Practicing playing the right way and remembering to warm up and cool down can help you avoid most common injuries. Next thing you know, that might be you serving for the championship at Wimbledon.