When it comes to the topic of sports injuries, most people tend to think of sports that emphasize physical contact, such as football and hockey. Other sports that are less violent still have their fair share of injuries; it’s common for professional basketball and football players to hurt themselves during games, causing them to be knocked out of commission for long periods of time.
While most people are aware of the injury risks associated with the afore-mentioned sports, it can be easy to think that less-strenuous activities carry little chance of bodily harm. In fact, both professional athletes and amateurs alike can hurt themselves while playing sports such as tennis. A prime example of this occurred at the 2013 Wimbledon tennis tournament, where six players sustained injuries during the third day of the competition.
It is estimated that over 30 million people in the United States play tennis regularly. Of course, that figure unfortunately translates into an awful lot of tennis related injuries. The following injuries are among the most likely to strike tennis players.
Ankle Sprains – Ever wonder what connects the body’s bones to one another? The answer is found in the form of ligaments, fibrous tissues that can be found in the knees, neck, pelvis, back, head and numerous other places. In total, your body comes equipped with over 900 ligaments.
With so many ligaments scattered throughout the body, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that your ankle bones are surrounded by these vital tissues. Given all the running involved in sports, athletes tend to place a heavy burden on their ankles, with tennis players being no exception. During matches, tennis players must move quickly in a lateral direction. In addition, players often have to make quick stops to properly position themselves for various shots across the net.
It is during these abrupt movements that the ankle can be inadvertently placed or pushed into an awkward position, causing the ligaments to be twisted, pulled or even torn. Ankle sprains can vary in severity, but they often cause swelling, pain and bruising. Of course, trying to walk on a sprained ankle is certainly no picnic.
Tennis Elbow – Elbow problems are a very common problem for tennis players, to the point that the term “tennis elbow” was coined to describe such injuries. It is estimated that 50 percent of those who play tennis develop this condition at some point or another. For tennis players, tennis elbow tends to develop in one of two forms, appropriately named after two kinds of tennis strokes.
Forehand tennis elbow occurs after the player delivers a particularly strong serve (a serve is a type of shot that starts a point, the smallest subdivision of a tennis match). If the player uses an excessive amount of force, he or she can strain the muscles and tendons that enable the wrist to bend (tendons are tissues that connect to muscles to bones). These same muscles and tendons extend down to the inner section of the elbow; when they are overworked during a match, the tennis player feels the subsequent consequences in this area.
Tennis players must also contend with backhand tennis elbow. While performing a backhanded serve, a player utilizes the muscles and tendons on the front side of his or her forearm. These tissues likewise extend down to the elbow, albeit on the opposing side of the arm. Consequentially, a case of backhand tennis elbow causes pain in the outer section of the elbow.
It should be noted that tennis elbow is an overuse injury, meaning that symptoms usually develop over a prolonged period of time. In 75 percent of cases, tennis elbow pain appears gradually. Interestingly enough, forehand tennis elbow usually afflicts experienced players, whereas backhand tennis elbow targets the amateurs and novices.
Rotator Cuff Tears – You may have heard about rotator cuff injuries in reference to baseball pitchers. Tennis players, who swing their rackets constantly during matches, are also no stranger to rotator cuff problems. The rotator cuff is actually a group of muscles and tendons that link the upper arm to the shoulder blade, enabling the body to lift the arm and extend it in an upward direction. Specifically, the rotator cuff has four main muscles, and a tear occurs when one of these muscles is damaged.
Unlike tennis elbow, rotator cuff tears instantly make their presence felt, hitting the patient with sharp jolt of pain. These tears can greatly limit the patient’s ability to utilize the shoulder, and leave this part of the body feeling weak and feeble. Many patients report bursts of pain when reaching the damaged arm above their head and behind their back. Pulling and lifting objects also becomes quite a painful endeavor. Severe tears can all but immobilize the affected shoulder.
Rotator Cuff Tendonitis – Tennis elbow isn’t the only “overuse” injury that bothers tennis players. All of those servers and various shots take their toll on the rotator cuff, to the point that the rotator cuff’s tendons become inflamed. This inflammation causes pain and tenderness in the shoulder area. Rotator cuff tendonitis is often brought about by repeated overhead serves.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – When “carpal tunnel syndrome” in mentioned, many people initially think of office workers relentless pounding away on keyboards. Surprising as it may sound, carpal tunnel syndrome is a persistent thorn in the side for numerous tennis players. This condition arises after the wrist’s median nerve is pinched or squeezed. This nerve runs through a passageway known as the carpal tunnel, hence the name “carpal tunnel syndrome.”
The hallmark symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include a dull ache in the wrist area and burning or tingling sensations in the fingers. A compressed median nerve can also cause wrist pain that shoots up into the thumb and three of the four fingers (the pinky finger, curiously enough, is spared from such pain). The afflicted hand and fingers often feel abnormally weak. The reason tennis players are particularly susceptible to this injury is quite simple – tennis requires players to strongly grip rackets for the duration of each match.