As a tennis player, whether you’ve been spending the winter season playing indoor tennis, paddle tennis, pickleball, running, skiing, or just binge watching shows on Netflix — it’s now time in Colorado to get ready for the outdoor tennis season.
You may have a checklist. Mine looks something like this:
- Renew your USTA membership
- Sign up for your tennis club league
- Re-grip your tennis racket
- Get new court shoes
- Buy sunscreen (non toxic)
- Convince yourself you need a new Lululemon tennis wardrobe
- Get sunglasses to shield your eyes from your legs that haven’t seen the sun in months!
You’ve been glued to the Opens watching Roger, Rafael, Nova, Serena, and Coco. And then you go out and try replicating their serves and ground strokes. But the next day it hurts to put on your seat belt or even tie your shoes. Maybe your elbow starts to ache while you’re sleeping, or your back hurts while you're sitting at work.
The point is... there’s a few more things to put on your list before heading back to the court for team drills or that 3-hour round robin.
Tennis is one of the best sports because it involves so many athletic requirements: upper and lower body strength, flexibility, core and trunk rotational stability, stamina, balance, and quick explosive movements into all directions. And that’s just what is required of your body. There’s also tactical knowledge, mindset, equipment, nutrition, and practice… lots and lots of practice.
Just like in car racing, it’s very important to have your "pit crew" in place when playing tennis. Imagine if Ryan Newman didn’t have a pit crew when he crashed earlier this month. Your crew could be made up of several people, or just one or two. The members of your crew may include your club pro, a nutritionist, a sports psychologist, your kids who always show up to cheer you on, and your teammates who celebrate with you after a match. It should also include a movement expert with experience treating tennis players. Spoiler alert: this is where I pitch the importance of having a qualified PT as that expert.
Plain and simple, physical therapists are movement experts. We are specially trained to look at the whole body, to assess strength and quality of movements, and to identify any apparent compensations the athlete makes during the activity. If there is a weak muscle or unstable joint, the body will find a way around it. Athletes are efficient in that way. The problem occurs when one body part takes on the job of another body part; then it eventually gets tired of having a second job. The muscles break down and you start experiencing pain.
Most people only think of PT when they hit that point. While physical therapists are really good at treating pain, they're also just as good at helping you prevent it. Just imagine how much healthier we would all be, if we put as many resources into preventing pain and illness as we do treating it.
The tennis serve and ground strokes involve many aspects of both mobility and stability. Similar to golf, the efficient tennis serve involves the coil and recoil transfer of energy into a well executed hit. If your body doesn’t have the available mobility and stability for the desired movement, it will find another way (i.e., compensation). Not only will the stroke not be as efficient and powerful as it could be, but eventually you’ll start to develop pain. This means taking time out from the game to heal from an injury.
Your tennis coach is trained to assess your game and direct you in making corrections. Sometimes this is a matter of retraining a movement pattern, or changing your grip, approach, or strategy. But if your body doesn't have the prerequisites to achieve this new motion, you’ll continue to compensate. This is where a qualified physical therapist can help.
A PT who works with tennis players will screen you, to see if you have the necessary physical components to achieve the movement and achieve your best stroke on the court. If you don’t have those components, a PT can help you achieve them.
As a racquetfit practitioner, I’m certified to work with your tennis pro at assessing physical limitations in achieving your next level of performance. Here's how I can help:
- If you don’t have a pro, but you want me to do a tennis screen, come see me! I can help you avoid pain and compensations with your game.
- If you’re already in pain, I can help you get back to your game.
- If you’ve never played tennis, I can help you build a strong foundation.
You can learn more about this topic by visiting our Overhead Athlete page.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are based on the opinion of the author, unless otherwise noted, and should not be taken as personal medical advice. The information provided is intended to help readers make their own informed health and wellness decisions.