With Wimbledon fortnight due to get underway soon – albeit looking a little different this year due to Covid restrictions – we are taking tennis injuries to the lower limbs as our theme for this blog.
We know when you head out on a sunny summer’s day for a game of tennis that the last thing you want to think about are sprained ankles or jumper’s knee. However, taking a few simple precautions might help you to avoid injury so you can continue to enjoy playing well into the autumn.
Common lower limb injuries in tennis
Tennis is synonymous with summer and it’s a great way to keep fit and have fun. The demands of the game, however, can cause injuries and these are some of the most common:
A sprained ankle is damage to the outer ligaments that support the ankle joint. Sprains often occur as you stretch to hit the ball or make a sudden sharp change of direction. If you sprain your ankle, use the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevation) for 24-36 hours. You should wear an ankle support when you play for up to six weeks after an ankle sprain and see a doctor if the pain is severe.
Achilles tendon injuries
If the Achilles tendon is over-used it can cause Achilles tendinitis which is a painful condition that requires rest in order to heal the inflammation. You may need to take anti-inflammatories and stretch your calf muscles, keeping your leg straight, to improve flexibility in the tendon. Using heel lifts in your normal shoes can also help.
A more serious injury is an Achilles tendon rupture which often requires surgery to repair it. You may experience a snapping sensation in the lower leg and be unable to stand on your toes. The pain may not be particularly severe but you should always seek medical attention if a rupture is suspected.
Torn calf muscle
A torn calf muscle is a painful and debilitating injury. You should stop playing immediately and use the RICE method. Several weeks of rest may be necessary to allow the muscle time to heal.
If you are experiencing knee pain it may be due to tendinitis of the patellar tendon, or softening of the cartilage of the patellar. It is particularly common among elite tennis players who tend to spring up on their knees during the serve. Alongside the RICE method, you may need to take anti-inflammatory medication and do knee-strengthening exercises to build up the quadriceps muscle in the thigh.
Jumper’s knee (or patellar tendonitis) is another injury we see frequently in tennis players as jumping – particularly on hard surfaces – can cause microscopic tears to the patellar tendon which joins the kneecap to the shinbone. Over time this may result in pain, inflammation and swelling of the knee, which may be worse when bending and straightening the leg or while walking, running or jumping. If left untreated the condition can cause tears in your tendon. Use the RICE method alongside stretching and strengthening exercises.
Sometimes the fast-paced starts and stops of a tennis game can cause a haemorrhage under the toenail that can be painful. Your doctor may suggest creating a hole in the toenail to relieve the pressure caused by a build-up of blood. You can prevent tennis toe by keeping your toenails short and avoiding shoes that crush your toes.
Preventing lower limb injuries
Not every injury is preventable however, you can avoid certain injuries by taking the following preventative measures:
- Always wear supportive and correctly fitting tennis shoes and check for signs of damage or wear.
- Have proper coaching to ensure you are using the correct technique and always use the correct equipment.
- If you experience pain or injury, stop playing. Rest, ice, compression and elevation can help to reduce swelling and relieve pain. You may also need to take anti-inflammatory medication. If the pain is severe, see a doctor.
- Warm up and cool down thoroughly before and after a game. Stretching and strengthening exercises build muscle endurance and flexibility and are a helpful way to avoid injuries.
- Do not return to playing too soon if you injure yourself or you risk a more serious injury. Persistent symptoms should be investigated as they are often signs of a repetitive strain injury such as tendonitis.
If you injure yourself while playing tennis or have any other type of sporting injury, talk to us about diagnosis and treatment.