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Spotting and treating common tennis overuse injuries

Playing tennis is a great form of exercise, but it doesn’t come without risks. We cover common types of tennis injuries and how to prevent and treat them.

August 29, 2023
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Tennis fans from around the world are tuning in to see their favorite players battle it out in the U.S. Open. But, the top-tier competition won’t be the only challenge the athletes face. These matches are played on a hard court which puts more strain on the player’s joints and could lead to a number of common tennis injuries.

Common tennis injuries

When the U.S. Open began in 1881, the tournament was played on a grass court. For a brief period in the mid-1970s, they played on clay before switching to a hard court in 1978. That distinction of the court matters more than just the level of bounce it gives the ball. Hard courts are much harder on your joints, particularly your knees and ankles. That’s in addition to other overuse injuries commonly seen among tennis players.

Types of tennis injuries

Playing tennis is a great form of exercise, but it doesn’t come without risks. The game requires a lot of quick twists and turns making injuries such as ankle sprains and knee tears quite common. Other orthopedic injuries — particularly those to the wrist, shoulder and back — happen over time, caused by repetitive movements like swinging the racket.

“Most commonly, we see injuries to the elbow, or tennis elbow, when it comes to injuries in tennis players,” says Dr. Kevin O’Donnell, an orthopedic surgeon with HCA Florida Healthcare. “There are also injuries that can occur in the shoulder joint, like shoulder tendinitis, rotator cuff injury or injuries to the stabilizing structures such as the labrum.”

Recognize the symptoms

Aches and pains are going to happen with any sport, but how do you know if the discomfort you’re feeling is the result of something more serious? “If you develop soreness that persists, this could be a sign that you may be overusing that extremity to a degree and it may be time to rest a bit,” says Dr. O’Donnell. “If you rest and the pain doesn’t seem to go away, it may be time to see an orthopedic surgeon.”

Common overuse symptoms you should look out for include:

  • Pain or tenderness
  • Warmth around the affected area
  • Difficulty lifting or fully extending your arm or leg 
  • Weakness when gripping the racket
  • Snapping or popping in the joints
  • Back pain that gradually worsens

Treating tennis injuries

Not all injuries require a trip to the doctor. If your pain isn’t severe or worsening, first try treating the pain or discomfort at home. Treatments can include:

  • Ice and heat: Icing the affected area will help reduce swelling, while heat will soothe pain and relax tense muscles. You can alternate the two but don’t use either for longer than 20 minutes at a time. Elevating the injury on pillows while you do this will also help reduce swelling.
  • Pain relievers: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as Advil, Aleve and Tylenol can help relieve pain and decrease inflammation. 
  • Rest: Pain is your body’s way of letting you know it needs a break. Rest the affected area for a day or two. If the pain does not improve or gets worse, make an appointment to see a doctor. 

How to avoid tennis injuries

While not all injuries are completely avoidable, there are steps you can take to protect yourself on the court. Here are some things you can try:

  1. Warm up and stretch well before you play
  2. Use the proper technique. Consult an instructor if you have questions.
  3. Use the right gear. Have a tennis store professional help you pick out the correct size racket, grip size and string tension to prevent strain.
  4. Wear supportive tennis shoes that are the correct size and aren’t too tight. Light compression socks are also a good idea to support the ankles.
  5. Work on muscle strengthening to help support weaker areas and prevent injuries.

Play smart

Tennis is a fun sport and a great way to stay in shape. “The health benefits of staying active outweigh any long-term injury risks for tennis participation. I would encourage most people to play, but be smart and play safely,” says Dr. O’Donnell.

If you do experience an injury that does not improve with rest and conservative treatments at home, or if your pain becomes worse, a trusted orthopedic specialist can help diagnose and the problem. Call (844) 671-4206 to get connected with an orthopedic doctor and find the care you need.

Published:
August 29, 2023

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