Somewhere between your perfectly-placed forehand approach shot and your put-away overhead, it happens: A tennis injury that leaves you achy, moving gingerly, or even completely sidelined. Even when you take all of the usual precautions for avoiding sunburn (sunblock 15 minutes before playing outdoors) and blisters (bring a second pair of socks so you’ll have dry ones to slip into mid-match), other injuries can happen despite your best intentions. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to prevent these types of injuries before they happen—and there are ways to bounce back more quickly if you do get one.
A mean backhand may be behind this gradually worsening elbow pain that can feel like it radiates from the elbow down the forearm when you grip your racquet.
Prevent It: A physical therapist or trainer can teach you exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles and ligaments that contribute to tennis elbow, focusing on the wrist and forearm. One to try a few times a week: Hold a tennis ball in your hand and squeeze it for five to 10 seconds, then relax. Repeat a several times.
You also may want to consider your equipment. Popular oversized racquets may be one risk factor since the larger surface area can increase torque, which puts more stress on your arm. Look for a mid-size racquet measuring 95 to 110 square inches, and have it restrung with synthetic nylon every six months.
A racquet grip that’s too big or too small for your hands can also be a factor. When you grip your racquet, you should be able to touch the tip of your thumb to the top knuckle of your middle finger.
If It Happens: Ice the elbow area two to three times a day, take NSAIDs as needed, and expect to take two to three weeks off from playing tennis.
Weak muscles and ligaments in your lower legs, plus the constant side-to-side motions that are part of every tennis game, combine to set you up for ankle sprains.
Prevent It: In addition to making sure you’re wearing supportive shoes, strengthening the balance muscles in your lower legs can help to stabilize your ankles, warding off future sprains. Using a resistance band, or having a friend apply resistance to your foot, practice pressing your foot forward, pulling it back toward you, and rotating your sole inward and outward. Standing on one foot at a time is another strengthening exercise for the ankle stabilizer muscles. (Balance on a folded towel or wobble board for an even greater stabilizing challenge.)
If It Happens: The typical “R.I.C.E.” advice applies here: Stay off your feet (Rest), Ice it, wrap it with an ACE bandage (Compression), and Elevate your foot above your heart to minimize swelling.
Sudden stops, pivots and directional changes can take a toll on your knees—especially if you step wrong. Straining or even tearing the ligaments that support the knee, like the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) can happen in an instant.
Prevent It: Strength training exercises for your lower body, including squats and lunges, help to strengthen the muscles that support the knee. These muscles, including strong quads in the fronts of your thighs play a big role in absorbing the impact when you throw on the brakes so your ligaments don’t have to.
If It Happens: Depending on whether there’s been a tear or simply a strain, and which ligament was affected, this type of an injury may require surgery. A visit to a sports physician can diagnose the problem and help you create a recovery plan.
It’s the quick starts and stops again, but sometimes the toes take the brunt of the force, jamming against the front of your shoes. When this happens repeatedly, it can cause bleeding and a build-up of pressure under your toenail.
Prevent It: Cut your toenails regularly and make sure you’re wearing the right size shoe. Feet swell during the day, as well as during an intense tennis match, so get measured at the end of the day for an accurate sizing.
If It Happens: A physician can relieve the pressure by drilling a hole in the toenail.