Tennis is a great sport played in the metro Atlanta area. As a player and physician, I realize how passionate people are about maintaining an active lifestyle. While tennis can be the perfect way to get some exercise (and have some fun while you're at it), it's definitely a sport that puts a lot of stress on the spine and back muscles. Sudden stops, spine-twisting saves, and powerful serves are all part of the game, but they can also be hard on your back. I often see patients who present with neck and low back pain from injuries suffered while on the tennis court. I am passing along a few tips to help protect your spine, while still being able to enjoy a sport we all love to play.
As is the case when playing any sport, a good warm-up helps to prepare and condition the muscles and joints so they'll be more flexible during play. Without a proper warm-up, you're more likely to experience injuries like muscle strains and joint sprains that could have you sitting out this tennis season. For best results, you may want to work with a therapist or trainer to develop a pre and post activity warm-up and cool down routine. Be sure to ask about specific tennis-related stretches to keep the neck, lower back, shoulders, and knees limber while you are out on the court.
Serving the ball correctly places your spine in an awkward position. You are hyper-extending the lower back muscles and creating a forcible load to many structures of your spine that have the capacity to generate pain. That means every serve creates the potential for serious injuries. A coach can be an excellent resource to help you find the right form for your serve. Their professional guidance can assist in providing you the power and accuracy you want while still protecting your spine.
The type of court on which you play can have a big impact (literally) on how much stress your spine will endure during your match. Not only do hard courts absorb less shock, they also ratchet up the speed of the game, requiring greater agility for a player to keep up. Soft courts, on the other hand, are able to absorb some of the stress that occurs during sudden starts and stops, lunges and jumps. In addition, a soft surface like clay slows down the speed of the ball, giving you more time to react and position your body appropriately to avoid injuries. While they are less commonly available than hard courts, soft courts can be ideal for those who want to play a more leisurely game of tennis that protects the spine from injury.
Tennis players are amazing athletes; to play the game well, you need extreme agility, endurance, and the ability to think quickly on your feet. Because of the high demands of the game, the potential for injury is always present, regardless of your skill set or level of play. With good preventive measures to stretch and strengthen your spine, the likelihood of significant injury can be markedly reduced. I hope you find these tips helpful as you continue to play. Most importantly be safe and have fun out on the courts!