The most common injury people associate with tennis isn’t the most common injury found at the high school level.
Most of us have heard of tennis elbow, an irritation of the tendons that connect forearm muscles to the outer bone of the elbow. It can be caused and exacerbated by overuse, and though it can affect players of any age ““ and non-players who engage in repetitive motions, like plumbers, painters or carpenters ““ tennis elbow can be most commonly found in older players, 30 and above, according to St. Elizabeth Healthcare’s partners at the Mayo Clinic.
With younger tennis players, injuries to the lower extremities are far more commonplace.
Lyndsey Molony-Maynard, head tennis coach at Notre Dame Academy and a veteran teaching pro and conditioning coach, said the injuries she sees in players most frequently are rolled ankles. It stands to reason. Tennis players are taught to slide-step rapidly along the baseline as opposed to running, to better position themselves for the next shot. But that puts extra pressure on ankles, particularly when playing on hard-court surfaces, far and away the most common here in the Tri-State.
Rolled ankles result in injury to the lateral ankle ligaments, those on the outside of the ankle, which are not as strong structurally as the medial (inside) ankle ligaments. Injuries to the medial ligaments account for 10 percent or less of tennis ankle injuries, according to the International Tennis Federation.
Kathy Boehmer, physical therapist and certified athletic trainer for St. Elizabeth Sports Medicine, said the standard of care in the wake of ankle injury remains the R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression and elevation) protocol. Icing several times a day reduces swelling and alleviates pain. Compression also mitigates swelling, as does keeping the affected area elevated above heart level.
To help guard against re-injury, applying athletic tape or a brace can offer added support. Make sure shoes fit properly and offer enough stability for sideways movements. Some models offer more coverage around the ankle area than others. Also, always make sure the playing surface is free of loose debris, and be sure to remove all tennis balls from the playing area, including behind the baseline; this is particularly important during drills where players shuffle in and out and many balls may be in use.
Younger players aren’t immune to tennis elbow or overuse injuries; with tennis elbow, the first remedy is rest, followed by gradual stretching and strengthening of forearm muscles. You can reduce risk of tennis elbow by using proper stroke technique and a racket that (a) isn’t overly stiff, and (b) is strung toward the lower end of tension recommendations. Players with tennis elbow should avoid polyester-based strings, or use poly in the main (vertical) strings and something softer, like gut or synthetic gut, in the crosses. Poor stroke technique can aggravate tennis elbow.