Have you ever sprinted for a backhand only to have a back spasm stop you in your tracks? Maybe you’ve been nursing spinal discomfort but it’s affecting your serve and smash? Back pain is common in tennis players; your sport might be causing, or making your pain worse.
It’s not surprising when you consider that the pressure placed on the spinal column while serving is a staggering eight times the force generated by running. Serving requires hyperextension, which can compress your spinal joints. Front and backhand shots require sudden side and twisting movements. As you toss, stretch, run, and bend with force, sometimes something gives!
According to the International Tennis Federation, 95% of players who experience low back pain have what’s called the ‘non- specific’ type. That means most problems stem from muscle and spine related injuries, the kind your chiropractor specialises in. The good news is there are ways to enjoy your passion and ease your pain.
These four important steps will help you to strengthen, support and heal your back, and improve your tennis game.
Warm up: A sufficient warm up is important to prepare your body. Five minutes of cardio, then taking your joints through their range of motion and practicing your strokes will get you ready for your game.
Professional advice: Have a tennis professional check your style, playing posture and the suitability of your racquet. The right amount of knee bend and strong muscles that re in the correct sequence, reduce dysfunction and discomfort. Strokes performed with the right technique can increase power while lessening pain and chance of injury.
Practice the bird dog: The bird dog is a strengthening exercise that focuses on toning the core and back muscles together. Kneel on all fours. Flatten your back and brace your stomach muscles. Lift one arm out straight in front and in line with your ear, at the same time that you extend the opposite leg straight behind. Ensure your posture is stable and then hold for 10 - 30 seconds. Return to the starting position, swap sides and repeat.
Switch up your serve: Serving is a serious business that places your back under significant strain. Converting to a lower force option, for example from a kick to a slice serve, will reduce the amount of back arch.
While lower back pain is common in tennis, other injuries can occur too. If your shoulder range of motion is restricted and it hurts to reach up, or to lie on that side, you might have a rotator cuff injury. Pain in the front of the knee, damage to the calf muscle or Achilles tendon, ankle sprains, and elbow and wrist problems are also frequent events. There is even a condition called ‘tennis toe’, where the toes hit the end of the shoe causing bruising under the nail.
Remember, playing tennis creates significant spinal and joint strain. Protect your game and playing future by caring for your body in health and in injury.