Benefits of Playing Tennis and How to Stay Injury Free

with Sports and Exercise Physiotherapist, Penny Dayan

When you think of physical activities to stay in shape, the usual ones that come to mind might be walking, running, cycling or swimming. But there’s one that is often overlooked. You guessed it. It’s tennis. 

Tennis is just as good for you mentally as it is physically. The tactical aspect of the game makes it superior compared to running or walking. It also burns just as many calories. Let’s not forget, whilst enjoying the fresh air of the outdoors, you’re also allowed to hit the ball as hard as you can. No one is stopping you, except the net… it’s a great stress reliever!

Tennis is a sport for everyone. No matter your age, gender or skill level, anyone can enjoy and reap the benefits it brings. With any form of physical activity, there is a risk of injury. Our very own Sports and Exercise Physiotherapist, Penny Dayan, also works at Tennis Australia with their National Academy athletes and Australian Open and Pro Tour tournaments. We had a chat with her about common injuries and injury prevention whilst on the court. But first, let’s discuss why tennis is so good for you. 

The Perfect Workout, Here’s Why:

Cardiovascular Health

Tennis is unique. It yields both aerobic training, meaning endurance, and anaerobic training, high-intensity movements. In a tennis point, your body works in small bursts of activity, the same way interval training does. As you’re chasing down or jumping for that yellow ball, your heart rate rises. You breathe deeper and faster, increasing the flow of oxygen and blood through the body. In turn, this contributes to a stronger cardiovascular system (stronger heart).

Improved Agility, Flexibility and Balance

Tennis is not a straight line sport. Have you ever watched a tennis match, either in person or on tv? Then you’ll know how much the players are always moving, stretching and reaching to keep the ball in play. It’s a sport that requires you to cover the entire court. Meaning moving forwards, backwards, side-to-side and diagonal. As you play, your brain and body learn to adapt more quickly and comfortably. Your flexibility will continue to improve as you play. It will naturally give you a wider range of motion, prevent injury and even reduce muscle strain.

It’s Amazing Socially

We all know you can’t play tennis by yourself. Hitting the ball back and forth requires at least two people. The great thing about tennis is that you can play with 2, 3, 4 or even 6 people if you wanted to. Studies have proven that face-to-face social interaction reduces the risk of depression. So grab your mates and get out there! Your mental health will thank you for it. 

The sport will also bring out your competitive side. And let’s be honest, it’s pretty funny seeing your friend wind up for a big hit, and then completely miss it. As you improve, you and your partner can join social competitions and meet similar people. 

There are countless benefits to playing tennis. Whether you’re participating socially or in competition, you’re constantly improving physically and mentally. As we mentioned previously, with any type of physical activity, there is always a risk of injury. Let’s chat about injury and injury prevention with Exercise and Sports Physiotherapist, Penny!

Q&A with Exercise and Sports Physiotherapist, Penny Dayan

Q: What are common injuries that occur while playing tennis?

The prevalence of lower-extremity injuries (31-67%) is commonly reported to be greater than upper-limb (20-49%) and trunk (3-21%) injuries in tennis. However, this can vary depending on the skill level and the age group of players. It has been consistently reported that lower extremity injuries in tennis are generally acute in nature, whereas the upper extremities are affected by chronic injuries.  

The acute nature of lower-limb injuries is thought to be due to the fast accelerations, decelerations and changes of direction demands placed through the legs and lower-extremities, and more often occur during competition than training, which may be due to the more reactive and less controlled movements when playing an opponent. Chronic upper-extremity injuries are typically related to the repetitive movement demands during serve, groundstrokes and volley actions. The most common types of tennis injuries are often reported to be muscle strains and sprains.

Common complaints include shoulder overuse injuries, due to the acceleration force and extreme positions the shoulder moves through when serving. Lower back pain is common due to the repetition of trunk rotation during serve and ground strokes. A player may hit up to 30-40 serves per set and up to 100-120 serves in a 3 set match. Recreational players may experience elbow extensor tendinopathy, commonly known as tennis elbow, which may be related to technique such as poor wrist position, weight of the racket, and increase in hitting.

What are some way to reduce/prevent the risk of injury?

Ways to prevent injuries include having good upper and lower body flexibility and strength, for example thoracic spine rotation, hip mobility and shoulder range. 

During the serve, approximately 51% of force is produced in the trunk and legs with the shoulder contributing 13%, elbow 21%, and wrist 15%. For this reason, it is essential to have good strength, muscle endurance and power in the legs and back, to avoid generating increased forces through the shoulder and rest of the arm, which may reduce the risk of arm injuries. 

Additionally, good technique, grip, and appropriate equipment including racket and strings play a role. As well as having the right balance between adequate level of general physical training and load. Avoiding sudden spikes and increase in training, assists in reducing the risk of injury when hitting.

Before Play

  • Warm-up and dynamic mobility so the hips, legs, back and shoulders in particular are prepared for what positions you will be moving through on court.
  • Stay hydrated prior to playing, particularly if playing in hot and humid conditions.

During Play

  • Consider your conditions, if hot and humid – rehydrate with small amounts of water throughout training, and matches at change of ends 
  • Do not take long breaks during training or matches, keep moving to ensure that you do not cool down.

After Play

  • Rehydrate and refuel
  • Gently stretch or ice any areas that may be sore or pre-existing injuries

What should you do when you get injured during play?

Apply ice for 20 minutes once you come off court and re-evaluate once you cool down. Touch base with your physio.

References

Fleisig G, Nicholls R, Elliott B, and Escamilla R. Kinematics used by world class tennis players to produce high-velocity serves. Sports Biomech 2(1): 51-71, 2002.
Kibler WB. The 4000-watt tennis player: Power development for tennis. Med Sci Tennis 14(1): 5-8, 2009
Abrams GD, Renstrom PA, Safran MR.Epidemiology of musculoskeletal injury in the tennis player. Br J Sports Med. 2012 Jun;46(7):492-8. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2012-091164. Epub 2012 May 25.

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