Yes, you are more likely to have tennis injuries with the wrong type of equipment.
Tennis season has rolled around again. Which is a strange thing to say as technically you can play it all year round. But you would have to say that there is definitely a tennis season, and in Australia that happens all though summer. Lots of people end up starting their tennis careers all over again after watching Ash Barty and Rafael Nadal. Consequently, during this season we tend to see a lot of tennis injuries in the clinic.
The most effective preventative strategies for injury are similar in any dynamic sport – pre existing strength and flexibility, warm up, cool down and recovery. However these take a long time to train and develop. And you only decided you love tennis again last week right? So let’s look at some simple things that you can do to make tennis a lower risk activity. Specifically I am going to go through some equipment choices that may make your tennis life easier.
Lets start from the ground up..
Get the right shoes to avoid tennis injuries
Can you tell the difference between court shoes and runners? Most people know that court shoes are a bit heavier and more durable for sliding around and dragging toes but there are some other key differences. Running shoes are primarily designed for you to run in straight lines forwards. For that reason they are relatively narrow and give you minimal lateral or sideways support. Consequently it is easier for you to roll your ankle or injure your foot and ankle stabilisers in runners.
Apart from being made of more durable material, good court shoes or tennis shoes wrap up and around the inside and outside of the foot slightly. This provides much more lateral stability to your foot inside the shoe. As a result it is easier for you to stop or push off in sideways directions, which for tennis is very important.
Don’t forget your socks. With all the sliding about you may encounter some blisters, and good socks can make a big difference.
Your clothing can affect your performance
At university, I was involved in 2 studies (this one and this study ) looking the effect of heat on tennis players. One of the interesting side notes of this research (although not necessarily published) was that there was a correlation between hotter skin temperatures and different types of garments worn.
Obviously if you wear more breathable, sweat wicking clothes you will get a greater evaporative effect on the skin, resulting in cooler skin. And the perception of being hot was more correlated with skin temperature than core temperature. Unsurprisingly, “feeling hot” resulted in players having shorter points. So if you want to play better, do your best to keep cool and choose appropriate clothes!
Racquets and string tension can help your game
There are lot of variables here. When choosing racquets where possible you want to try before you buy. All racquets are designed differently in terms of size and shape, stiffness, weight and “feel”. Some of these variables have quite a profound effect on your body.
- Size and shape is fairly simple – if you go for a bigger racquet you usually will get more power but potentially sacrifice some control.
- Stiffness – Important if you have had tennis elbow or shoulder issues in the past. A stiffer racquet requires a bit more arm strength to absorb the energy of the impact with the ball, whereas a less stiff racquet will do some of the absorbing for you.
- Weight – a heavier racquet may allow you a more powerful shot but also requires more strength to use. So if you have had upper limb injuries in the past or not played a lot of tennis a lighter racquet is more forgiving on the body
- Feel – I don’t have any scientific measure for this. Some racquets feel great, some just don’t. It is mostly trying to match a racquet’s personality to your style of play.
String tension is important
Strings have changed the way tennis is played a lot in the last 15 years. Players at an elite level can get more power and spin on the ball than ever before. This will change the quality of your tennis performance but also can change the effect our racquet has on your arm.
Different string types provide different properties, much like different racquets. Some strings are more forgiving if you have issues like tennis elbow or golfers elbow. Rather than go through all the string types and properties there is a great description here . The best thing to do is talk to your local coach or racquet stringer to get a feel which is best for you.
Also be aware of different string tensions. A more tightly strung racquet as a general rule gives you more control and less power, but also increases the forces going through your arm. Whereas a more loosely strung racquet is more forgiving on the arm as it provides more of a trampoline effect. However it is usually at the detriment of some control. There is a recommended string tension range on the inside of most racquets if you want to play around with it a bit.
If you change string types the tension may also need changing. Generally most synthetic gut type strings feel a bit more forgiving compared to polyester or Kevlar type strings that usually need to be strung at a slightly lower tension. But again it is best to talk to the experts about the different string properties and their recommendations.
The wrong type of grip can give you tennis injuries
It seems silly but if you are having trouble gripping your racquet it can play havoc with your gripping muscles, and your tennis game. Don’t wait too long to change grips for sake of saving a couple of dollars. When you do change grips make sure the butt of the racquet is still prominent. Sometimes you see players put overgrips on in a way that “flattens out” the natural flaring at the base of the racquet. This is a problem because it is there to help you not have the racquet fly out of your hand.
The grip size also needs to match you hand size. A big hand holding a small grip is difficult, but a small hand holding a large grip is horrible. Here is a nice link for measuring hand size.
If you are a heavy sweater it may also be worthwhile looking at sweatbands to keep as much sweat off your hands as possible.
New balls can help you prevent tennis injuries
Everyone knows new balls feel better to play with. From an injury prevention perspective a new ball has more bounce and feels less heavy. Consequently you won’t require as much muscular effort to get it down the other end, hopefully at speed and therefore can avoid tennis injuries. So remember to replace your balls regularly.
In terms of types of balls it is quite similar to strings. Different brands of different properties in terms of bounce, speed through the air, durability and feel. Sadly with tennis balls you do get what you pay for. As a general rule a more expensive ball is going to last longer and be less effort to hit. Similar to the other equipment if in doubt talk to your local coach. You may also need to adjust the ball type to the surface that you are playing on.
Remember, if you do have aches and pains it is always worth having an assessment with a physiotherapist first before throwing away your racquet and trying your 10th type of string composition.