How to Prevent Shoulder Injuries In Tennis
Aug 20, 2019
There is a good chance if you play tennis you have had some form of a shoulder injury. The shoulder injury statistics are not great for the tennis lover. Having been a tennis fitness trainer for nearly 20 years, I would say shoulder injuries are one of the most common body parts that get messed up.
The majority of tennis shoulder injuries are overuse injuries, which generally means they can be prevented following certain preventive measures. We will look at these later on.
First, let’s look at the complexity of the shoulder joint.
The shoulder joint is a ball and socket joint. It is highly mobile. It is estimated the shoulder joint can be placed in 1000s of different positions.
If you compare the shoulder joint to say the hip joint, the hip joint has a lot more structure and support around it, it is a lot more robust.
The shoulder joint, on the other hand, is more isolated and has a lot less muscle mass around it to support the joint.
For this reason, it needs to be well maintained (kept strong) and managed (Mobile). This is how we can best prevent tennis shoulder injuries.
For a tennis player, there is no more important joint than their dominant shoulder. All shots rely on its use and having it unrestricted and strong helps more than most players realize. If you have ever had shoulder issues, you know what I am saying.
When we assess shoulder joint mobility one of the assessments we use is called the Aspley test, it is the easiest to explain and implement.
We use 2 other assessments. The dowel overhead shoulder roll and wall angel. We also have found a strong correlation between lack of thoracic mobility (Mid spine) and shoulder dysfunction, leading to injury.
This is due to the fact through the service motion, we need to get good thoracic rotation and extension, and without it, players tend to overuse the vulnerable shoulder joint to try and generate power.
How to Prevent Shoulder Injuries In Tennis
Here are some key points to consider;
- Keep the joint range of motion (ROM) as functional as you can. Check out the stretches and mobility exercises in the video above. Having a good range of motion allows the joint to move unrestricted, distributes the load better (utilizes more available muscle tissue), and places less stress on connective tissue (Tendons).
- Keep the muscles surrounding the joint strong. There are certain muscles that are more movement dominant (phasic) and muscles that are more stability or postural based (tonic) both sets of muscles need to be targeted when we strengthen the shoulder joint.
We need both strong dominant muscles (repeated hitting and power) and good stability (overhead hitting, putting the shoulder in vulnerable positions)
- If players do not manage their recovery well and by that I mean; having enough rest (allow the body to recover and adapt) stretching, foam rolling, and trigger point. Then they will eventually develop issues.
- Consistently follow a shoulder strength and stability program – MUST DO!
Tips to prevent shoulder injuries in tennis;
- Avoid using wet tennis balls. The extra weight can cause injury. It happens often.
- When changing rackets, do it gradually. 50/50, using your old racket 50% of the time for the first 3-6 hits.
- When making technical changes, especially with forehand and service motions, do not do too much too soon. Gauge how your body is tracking and manage it slowly (especially with young players)
- Mix your serve up. It still surprises me that most coaches get players practicing for hours, then when they are fatigued, getting them to hit 50 -100 serves. In this day and age, everyone knows how important the serve is, focus on it in a peaked state early on, and then, by all means, finish off hitting some in a more fatigued state. The shoulder is in its most vulnerable position stretched out overhead, utilizing the muscles and range in a “fresher” state is much more rewarding long term and less risk of injury.
- Train, stretch, and mobilize both sides. Most players just work their dominant sides. You will be surprised how much your non-dominant side does and how much it can help the dominant side out when it is in a better state.
Being conscious of your shoulder is the first step to preventing injury. Build up the strength, get it mobile and maintain it. Do those 3 things and you will be on your way to prevent shoulder injuries in tennis!
To learn more about lower-body injuries in tennis go here
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