Tennis might be a mental game, but it also challenges you physically in many different ways. From repeated serving to explosive sprints in all directions, the sport asks a lot of your body.
“You can really injure anything playing tennis,” says Haylee E. Borgstrom, MD, a Mass General Brigham sports medicine specialist.
But don’t let that discourage you from playing the game. Gain the advantage on the court by learning about possible tennis injuries and tips to prevent them.
Many tennis injuries happen from overuse, which causes tissues in your joints to slowly break down. “You can overuse something because you’re doing too much of the activity, or you can overuse something because you’re using it in the wrong way,” says Dr. Borgstrom. A lot of tennis overuse injuries affect your upper body, namely your shoulder, elbow, wrist, or hand.
You could also get an acute (sudden) injury. This type happens from a single traumatic event and causes almost immediate swelling and bruising. Acute injuries tend to affect your lower body in explosive sports like tennis.
Shoulder flexibility helps you hit everything from forehands to overheads. But that flexibility also makes shoulder joints less stable and more prone to injury. In addition, many people use their shoulders to make up for weakness in the torso (your chest, core, and back) without realizing it.
Common shoulder injuries from tennis include:
You’ve probably heard of tennis elbow (pain on the outer part of the elbow), but tennis players can also get golfer’s elbow (pain in the inner elbow). Both are names for overuse or chronic inflammation of the tendons that start in your elbow. These tendons run down your forearm and let you move your hand and wrist.
You can also hurt your wrist playing tennis, which may look like:
Knee injuries, tennis leg, and ankle sprain
Fast sprints and sudden pivots on the court can lead to injuries in your lower body. Dr. Borgstrom commonly sees knee injuries, including:
Playing tennis may also lead to strained muscles in your calf (tennis leg) and a sprained ankle. “Because you’re cutting a lot in tennis, you can tear the ligaments on the outside (or, less commonly, the inside) of the ankle,” she says.
“In many cases, injury prevention comes back to form and biomechanics, or how everything is working together,” highlights Dr. Borgstrom. “Paying attention to the entire chain of joints and muscles in a movement is absolutely key.”
She stresses the importance of strengthening and stretching your body. On both your dominant and nondominant side, concentrate on your:
“An adequate warm up and cool down session is important, especially in sports that involve sudden movements,” says Dr. Borgstrom. Actively warming up gives your body a chance to increase blood flow to your muscles, which helps prevent acute injuries.
Make sure you have the right racket for you, from grip size to string tension. “A lot of the muscles and tendons you use in tennis are responsible for gripping,” says Dr. Borgstrom. “If your racket handle is too small, then you have to grip the handle tighter, which causes inflammation.”
Dr. Borgstrom encourages everyone to stay active in more than one way. “Even if tennis is your primary sport, taking up another activity that you enjoy can be very useful for recovery, cardio, and strength,” she says. “It’s also important for young people to not specialize in a sport too early. Doing so exposes athletes to overuse injuries, overtraining syndrome, and burnout.”
As for tennis, “start low and go slow,” she advises. “Listen to your body, and give yourself adequate rest and time to recover.”
Learn about Mass General Brigham Sports Medicine services