Tennis Players: The Link Between Technique And Shoulder Injuries

Health & Medical Articles

Tennis is one of the most popular sports in the United States. Experts estimate that as many as 17 million Americans play the sport, but injuries are alarmingly common. The sad truth is that two-thirds of these injuries occur due to overuse, most commonly in the elbows, wrists and shoulders. If you're an avid tennis player, find out how shoulder injuries commonly occur, and why your technique plays such an important role in avoiding shoulder problems.

Types of shoulder injury in tennis players

While most people have probably heard of tennis elbow, fewer players consider the risk of shoulder injuries while playing the game. Nonetheless, some players suffer serious problems with this part of the body when they play tennis, and long-term injuries can stop you taking part in the sport altogether.

Shoulder injuries most commonly occur because players don't look after the muscles surrounding this crucial joint, particularly when serving the ball. The unique overhead movement of a tennis serve interferes with the natural movement of the shoulder joint, and, over time, serious problems can start to develop. To avoid these injuries, it's important to understand in detail how the problem occurs.

The kinetic energy chain

A 2006 study investigated the problem of shoulder injuries in tennis players in detail. Doctors and sports coaches already knew that some of the movements made during a tennis match are unnatural and are often beyond the natural capabilities of the shoulder joint. The 2006 study discovered more about the biomechanics of tennis, and how players could avoid injury.

Doctors refer to the movement during a tennis serve as a kinetic energy chain. To serve safely and capably, players must use several parts of the body to perfectly build up the kinetic energy they need to effectively serve the ball, without causing injury. The required kinetic energy chain includes the leg, hip, torso, shoulder, elbow and wrist.

Studies show that around half the kinetic energy you need for a perfect serve comes from the leg, hip and trunk. The shoulder regulates the force that you need, while the arm, elbow and wrist deliver the force at the right time, in the right way. Unfortunately, some players use the shoulder to continue to generate force, so it's vital to properly understand the kinetic energy chain and the sort of technique that can lessen the risk of injuries.

The problem of muscle imbalance

Studies show that 120 percent of your body weight can pass through your shoulder during a tennis serve. This force puts considerable pressure on the shoulder and the rotator cuff - the group of muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder. In tennis players, the rotator cuff is often too weak to cope with the motion because the game builds up muscle on the front of the shoulder only.

What's more, the rotator cuff muscles are difficult to build up. Normal gym exercises will often focus on overhead presses and rowing, but these movements don't isolate and work the rotator cuff muscles.

A muscle imbalance will often start as a type of soreness in the shoulder, which then lingers after a game. Over time, the pain may start to disturb your sleep and will normally start to interfere with game play.

The importance of therapy

Occupational therapy at places like Kleiser Therapy can help tennis players recover from shoulder injuries. This type of therapy can also help players build up their rotator cuff muscles to avoid future problems. Expert insight is vital to help players deal with their problems. For example, the best exercises focus more on endurance than power. As such, therapists will often recommend that you hold an anchored exercise band and rotate a raised arm away from your body, to isolate and exercise only the rotator cuff muscles.

An experienced therapist will also help you focus on the correct movements you need to maintain a perfect kinetic energy chain. For example, you must get into the habit of creating a normal rotation arc to allow your shoulder to move more naturally. An occupational therapist can show you the stretches and exercises that help you achieve this aim.

Tennis players are not just susceptible to problems with their elbows, and shoulder injuries remain a common issue. Make sure you do not suffer a serious injury and consult a trained therapist for more advice on technique, stretches and exercises that can protect your shoulders.


26 January 2015

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