Any way you spin it, tennis is a great sport for keeping you active and healthy through every stage of life from grade school to the golden years. Unlike football, it's not a contact sport so impact-related injuries are rare. Unlike soccer, it doesn't require a whole team to get a game going. And unlike many other sports where playing fields can be few and far between, complimentary tennis courts are easy to find in many communities (especially here in Florida). It just stands to reason that a sport that's so easy to pick up and play, and keep playing, has got to be good for you and it can be. Just keep a few things in mind in terms of spine safety.
If your game is serving up chronic back pain, it may be time to give Dr. Chetan Patel and the Spine Health Institute a call. We help athletes of all ages and skill levels to feel and function better on the court through expert diagnostics, physical therapy and strengthening exercises, along with advanced and minimally invasive treatment for spinal injuries.
With all of the sudden stops and starts, muscle extensions and trunk rotations required in tennis, its no wonder that many regular players suffer from lower back pain and other spine-related problems. In fact, bulging or herniated discs, facet joint pain, sciatic pain, spondylolisthesis and vertebral stress fractures are frequently experienced by tennis players. But there are several commonsense ways to reduce the wear-and-tear that tennis puts on your back and lessen your risk of injury. Read below for five things you should keep in mind when heading out for your next few sets.
Warm Up and Win
As with any athletic activity, its essential to stretch and loosen your muscles prior to playing tennis, then stretch again when you're done. This will reduce the likelihood of muscle strains as well as the lower-back muscle spasms often experienced by tennis players. Trunk twists, arm circles and slow jogging from one part of the court to another are good ways to warm up all of your muscles prior to play. If you have chronic back pain, you may want to add to your warm-up some specific stretches that target the portion of your spine (usually the lumbar region) where your pain occurs. Heres a quick stretch for your lower back. For additional back strengthening exercises, check out our Back to Basics videos.
Play the Clay
Given the choice of playing on a hard surface or a synthetic clay court, softer is better when it comes to the spine. Many tennis clubs offer a form of soft court called Har-Tru, which is a green, sand-like surface on which balls move somewhat slower and players have fewer abrupt stops and starts because they are able to slide into place. While hard courts are typically more accessible than clay ones, it's worth looking around for affordable possibilities.
Slice the Serve, Table the Topspin
The serve is by far the most dangerous stroke in tennis and we're not just talking about it as an offensive weapon. Rather, the way that your body has to rotate and extend itself to launch the ball over the net during every service game is a recipe for back trouble. That's especially true if you happen to employ a topspin serve, the mechanics of which require significant hyperextension of the lower back muscles and compression of the lumbar disks. A more back-friendly serve is the slice, where your racket approaches the ball from the side rather than from above. So slice it up and keep your spine in line!
Consult a Coach
It's hard to overstate the importance of learning proper shot techniques if you want to avoid back injuries when playing tennis. This applies not only to the serve, but overheads, volleys and groundstrokes as well. A professional coach can teach you optimal hitting stances, ways of connecting to the ball and follow-through motions to keep your spine safe. Players who experience back pain may also benefit from learning a one-handed backhand, which can reduce some of the rotational stress that this shot puts on the spine. Your coach can also teach you spine-safe practice techniques. For example, when doing drills, you should avoid excessive repetition of a single kind of shot (like an overhead) to reduce the chance of straining one or more muscle groups.
Optimize Your Equipment
Whatever you do, don't go out on the tennis court wearing running shoes, or any other type of footwear that doesn't support multidirectional movements. Make sure you are using the right tennis racquet with the proper string tension, try not to play with flat or wet tennis balls, and never play on a wet and slippery court. Your local tennis pro is an excellent source of advice on what equipment is best suited to you and most likely to minimize unnecessary stress on your back muscles as well as other parts of your body.
If back pain is bothering you on or off the court, we may be able to help. Arrange for an evaluation by Dr. Chetan Patel or a member of his medical team at the Spine Health Institute by contacting our patient care coordinator at
Call866-986-7497 or clicking on the book online button at the top right of this page. Well get you back out and swinging in no time!
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