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Tips for Tennis and Pickleball Athletes of all Ages

May 11, 2021

Millions of people enjoy engaging in these sports.  Both offer many health benefits including an aerobic workout that can release endorphins and reduce stress, a shot of sunlight to up the Vitamin D helping our immune and skeletal systems as well as placing us in an enjoyable social atmosphere.  As the weather turns warmer, people will be playing more frequently.  The key to preventing injury and to performing well while playing is overall fitness.  Every year, as with all sports, thousands of recreational tennis or pickleball players experience a range of injuries from overuse of the shoulder or elbow to injuries of the back, knees and ankles.

Both of these sports are complex physical activities which require strength, balance, flexibility, coordination, speed and agility.  It is very important to engage in the proper warm up and stretching for all the muscles that are going to be used.  All levels of players should aim to target endurance, flexibility and muscle conditioning exercise in order to develop into the best athlete they can be and to prevent injury.

Here are some tips on how to develop into the best tennis or pickleball athlete you can be and to prevent injury:

  1.  Always check with your physician before beginning any exercise or sports program.  This is especially important if you are older or have any underlying health conditions.
  2. Warm up properly.  Take a brisk walk or a light jog around the courts for five to 10 minutes before engaging in competition.
  3. Stretch the muscles you will be using:  Legs should focus on two part calf stretch (with knee bent and straight) to help ankle flexibility, hamstrings stretch to prevent hamstring injury, wrist stretches with elbow bent and straight for both up and down positions, shoulder stretch across body and overhead, pectoralis/chest stretches and do not forget your trunk for gentle rotational and side bending movements.  15-20 second holds at end ranges for 2- 3 repetitions each.  No bouncing.  Simply touching each finger with the thumb 10 times and then rotating the wrist clockwise and counterclockwise can warm up the hand, wrist and forearm.
  4. Start your practice warm up with shorter distance strokes first.  You can move back as you loosen up and take a few serves.
  5. To help with the serve, avoid arching your back unnecessarily.  Keep a slight bend in your knees and raise your heels so that upper body weight in more easily balanced.  Also avoid serving with a straight arm and firm wrist as this will transfer shock from the wrist to the elbow.  Allow the arm to bend slightly.
  6. Backward swings should start at your shoulder.  Avoid placing your thumb behind the racquet’s grip for more support on the backhand
  7. Bend your arm on forehand shots as that will allow your biceps and shoulder to take the force of the swing rather than your elbow.
  8. Strengthening to your rotator cuff muscles, upper back muscles, core/trunk muscles, wrist and hand muscles will improve your game as will general leg strengthening exercises.
  9. Agility drills for full body motions can also give you an advantage over your opponent.  These multidirectional drills enable you to react quickly and with good form.

What are some of the injuries that you should be aware of that can occur with these sports?  Rotator Cuff Tendonitis is a painful inflammatory process of the tendons of the rotator cuff muscles in your shoulder that result from overuse, weakness or poor body mechanics/form while doing the sport.  Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) pain in and around the elbow area from overuse or improper body positioning during the sport.  Injury to the low back, knees, calf muscles or ankles are often the result of reaching for or returning a shot with the body extended, running or when quick, twisting movement of the legs occurs.  Are you an athlete who rarely takes a day off even if you are hurting? Sometimes a problem arises from the constant strain that is placed on muscles and tendons and sufficient healing and repair is prevented from occurring.  The body part simply wears down in a perpetual state of chronic low grade inflammation. If you are hurting, you should not be forcing yourself to play.

Self help ideas if you feel you are experiencing injury include:  Take a rest from the sport, use ice on the area to reduce inflammation and take over the counter anti inflammatory medications (if allowed by your doctor), After 72 hours, alternate use of ice and heat to the area.  (Use a bag of frozen peas or corn for cold application – they can be put back in the freezer when done.  Remember to use a towel between the source of the cold and your skin.  Ice often – three to four times a day.  Ice is the most indicated for initial injury.  You are trying to stop internal bleeding and microtears in the tissue and reduce inflammation.  Using heat too early in an injured state does not promote the initial tissue repair that your body needs to do.  Later, when heat is allowed,  a moistened towel heated in microwave to a comfortable temperature, microwavable beanie heat pack, electric heating pad or even a baked potato in a towel can work.  Remember you should never feel like the heat is burning your skin!!  Make it a warm comfortable temperature and protect your skin with a towel.)  If you are in the stage of alternating cold and heat, do so for 10-15 min at a time and finish with cold. Try some gentle stretching to your sore area but do not push into pain.  Try to move the injured area through its full range of motion a few times a day.

If your pain or symptoms do not go away with self help, seek the consult of your physician or physical therapist.  At Optimal Physical Therapy and Sports Performance, we are skilled at assessing underlying issues that might be contributing to your problem and we can offer professional advice for overall conditioning, individualized exercise program and return to sport suggestions.

 

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