If you have ever experienced tennis elbow or arm pain brought on by your favourite racket sport you will know just how excruciating this can be. Once you have recovered from a bout of tennis elbow, usually by rest and rehabilitation it’s important to make some changes to your equipment and game to help prevent your tennis elbow from recurring. We have put together 10 ways to assist with the preventing of recurring tennis elbow, to allow you to achieve multiple satisfaction when playing tennis, or other racket sports without the fear of constant injury and time away from the game.
It may sound obvious but extensively warming up prior to striking a ball can go a long way in preventing any potential injuries such as tennis elbow. No stretching is required at this stage, the aim of the warmup is to increase your heart rate enough so that your body is physically ready for strenuous exercise.
Whether it’s jogging around the court, jumping jacks, skipping, toe touches, or running on the spot we would recommend that you warm up thoroughly for a minimum of 10 minutes. When you do pick up the racket, start in the service boxes and exaggerate each stroke for a few minutes, before moving back to the baseline and hitting full ground strokes.
A small adaption to your game such as changing your preferred string type can make a massive difference when trying to prevent tennis elbow and arm pain. Tougher tennis strings made from polyester and co-polyester should be avoided if possible. These strings are fantastic for durability but due to their stiff nature can cause increased arm vibrations, which can lead to the recurrence of tennis elbow.
Softer strings such as multifilament, synthetic gut and natural gut will offer far greater dampening qualities due to their soft cushioning nature, resulting in less vibrations and hence less pain. Some excellent tennis string options would be the ever-popular Wilson Sensation, NRG2 brought to you by Technifibre & RS New York, crafted by former French Open finalist Robin Soderling.
Your string tension can be equally as important as your string type to help reduce arm pain when playing tennis and other racket sports. A lower string tension will result in three primary outcomes, all of which are beneficial in reducing arm pain. Firstly, a loosely strung racket will generate power more easily, meaning that less effort is needed on your groundstrokes, serves and volleys.
Secondly, the sweet spot of your racket head becomes greater, meaning that you can get away with more shots which do not come out of the centre of the racket. Finally, vibrations will be limited which ultimately should result in less pain. Refer to the recommended string tension which can usually be found on the inner or throat of your racket and opt for a tension in the lower quartile, usually around 50lbs / 22.5kgs.
The string gauge is relating to the thickness of the tennis string. As a rule, a thinner string gauge will result in more power and less arm vibrations, ideal for reducing arm pain. The gauge of a tennis string typically starts at 1.00mm in thickness and increases to 1.49mm. We would recommend to not exceed a string gauge with is thicker than 1.30mm as this will increase your chances of injury.
You should also consider that a thinner gauge will be less durable so it will break more frequently. Having a super thin gauge may be great on your arm, but won’t be quite as pretty on your wallet, so this is worth thinking about. As a good compromise we would recommend a slightly thicker / durable string on your main strings and a softer / thinner string on your cross strings, known as a hybrid-string set up.
Your tennis racket itself can have a considerable impact on arm pain and tennis elbow. The largest factor here is the weight of the racket. A heavier racket will require more force and energy to strike the ball. Whereas a lighter racket will be able to generate the same, or greater racket head speed, while exerting less energy and force on your arm. Most racket models across the big brands will have lighter variations available, usually signified by an L, which will be significantly lighter than the original.
The second variable when considering purchasing a new tennis racket is the head size. A slightly larger head size will be characterised by a larger sweet sport, as well as being more forgiving for any shots which may not come out of the centre of the strings. Many racket models will offer an oversized racket head option, with 100 square inches and 105 square inches being common sizes for many racket models.
Hitting less tennis balls during a match will essentially result in less arm pain. This can be made possible by shortening the points wherever possible. Whether it’s throwing in the odd serve and volley, or standing higher up the court when returning, there are many tactics and options to help shorten points. Roger Federer is the master of this, playing with an aggressive style which can commonly result in him winning a service game in around a minute.
Changing your playing style is by no means an easy task as this requires you to push yourself and to feel out of your comfort zone during the transition period. We would suggest working with your coach to ease you through this process. You may lose more points initially but if you want to increase the longevity of your playing career, adapting your style is a necessity.
The court surface which you play on can make a massive difference to the amount of pressure your body is under when playing tennis. Slower surfaces such as clay and slower hard courts are characterised by longer rallies and extended matches, which can be tough on your body. If you have multiple playing surfaces to choose from at your local club or sports centre, we recommend avoiding such surfaces if suffering from arm pain and tennis elbow.
Faster playing surfaces, including indoor carpet, grass (synthetic or the real stuff) and faster playing hard courts will often result in shorter rallies, shorter matches and ultimately less pressure on your joints and muscles. It’s also worth playing with new tennis balls wherever possible, preferably the type which has less fluff, as these will move faster through the court. We love RS Tennis Black Edition which is an awesome tennis ball.
Cold and damp playing conditions will lead to heavy and slow tennis balls, which will require substantially more force to replicate the same impact as warm and dry playing conditions. The ball will move very slowly through the thick air, absorbing any moisture along the way. Your body will also take longer to warm up which again will increase the chances of arm pain and injury. If possible, play indoors during the winter season, emerging on the outdoor courts at the start of Spring, injury free and raring to go for the summer season.
Listen to your body, if you wake up feeling sore and tired from your previous days’ session take a few days off to allow your body to fully recover. During these rest days you can still partake in light exercise, as well as carry out any recommended exercises which your GP or physio has advised. It’s also important to eat well and onboard plenty of fluids to ensure a successful recovery of your body, allowing you to come back even stronger the next time you play.
Once your match or hit is over this shouldn’t be the end of your session. Stretching post playing is crucial to reduce any stiffness and soreness which is likely to occur during the 48-hours that proceeds an intense tennis match or any workout. Taking an extra 10 minutes at the end of your session can make all the difference to you feeling refreshed and injury free the following morning.
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