Common Injuries and Treatment Options for Tennis Injuries

Frank G. Alberta, M.D. August 30th, 2021

The U.S Open, the last tennis major of the year, starts this week, putting tennis at the front of sports fans’ minds for two solid weeks.  It also makes it a great time to discuss the most common injuries we treat in tennis players—from pros to the occasional pickup player—and give you some strategies on how to avoid them. 

Tennis Elbow

Let’s start with the obvious one…tennis elbow. Tennis elbow is an exceptionally common problem that doesn’t have to be associated with tennis. It just so happens that any racquet sport is the perfect setup to create this problem but any repetitive action that involves the wrist can cause it. Yep, you read that right. Tennis elbow is a wrist problem but it hurts at the elbow. The tendons that control the wrist attach all the way up at the outside of the forearm and when they are damaged, it causes pain and stiffness. This condition is often referred to as tendinitis but that’s not completely accurate. Tendinitis implies that you have a normal tendon that is inflamed.  In tennis elbow you have a damaged tendon that cannot heal itself but it isn’t inflamed.

Treatment

The best way to treat it is to avoid the activity that caused the problem, use ice, stretch and massage. Bracing can be very helpful and we can provide some exercises that can strengthen the area. Serious players should have a teaching pro assess grip size on their racquet and make sure the string tension is correct for them. Very rarely does this problem require surgery or other interventions from us. Cortisone injections have fallen out of favor because multiple injections can cause more damage to the tendon. PRP (platelet rich plasma) injections have been shown to be effective long term and minimally invasive ultrasound based procedures can provide relief in the worst cases. 

Labrum Injuries

Shoulder injuries are also common in tennis players and are usually related to overheads and serves. This motion is very similar to a throwing motion and therefore we see similar types of injuries to what is commonly seen in pitchers. Labrum injuries are typical in high level players who tend to be injured earlier in their careers. These can manifest later on as biceps inflammation and symptoms. These injuries tend to be structural and related to tears so treatment options are limited.

Treatment

If physical therapy and rest aren’t enough to get you back to playing, an MRI is helpful and sometimes requires a dye injection to determine the level of injury. A shoulder and elbow specialist can help make that determination and avoid wasted time or studies. 

Rotator Cuff

Finally, more “mature” tennis players tend to suffer with rotator cuff related symptoms. You would normally experience pain with overheads and serves and not necessarily ground strokes. Sometimes the pain is worse at night and not when you are playing.

Treatment

Tendinitis is very common and is easily treated with rest, ice, non-steroidal medication, and therapy exercises. As opposed to tennis elbow, cortisone injections can be very helpful but before going this route, you should have a better handle on the extent of the damage. That’s where we can help determine what treatment is indicated and whether or not we need to dig deeper first. A tear in the rotator cuff often leads to surgery and a long recovery so we’d like to prevent that before it happens. 

As with any sport or activity, the intensity and the volume will typically determine how likely you are to get injured. Remember to incorporate rest into your schedule and ramp up slowly after long layoffs. Watching the pros play is very motivational and inspires us to hit the courts. Take it easy and listen to your body and when your body tells you something is wrong, it usually is. That’s when we can help. 

Dr. Frank Alberta is a shoulder & elbow surgeon and sees patients in Paramus and Rutherford. To make an appointment, click here

 

 

 

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