At the end of his final professional tennis match, Andre Agassi stood before the crowd and said: "You have given me your shoulders to stand on to reach for my dreams, dreams I could never have reached without you".
Unfortunately, he also ended this match with a loss due to excruciating back pain. It had plagued him for years due to intense training and wear and tear. Of course, he put superhuman demands on his body, but all of us are at risk for back injury when playing tennis.
It is common - about 20 % of tennis injuries - because of the repetitive nature, twisting during groundstrokes, and extension during overhead play. An acute pain may arise from a sudden overstretch or fall, but most often it's the repetition that causes cumulative damage over time.
Luckily for those who want to enjoy tennis recreationally or competitively, there are strategies we can use to keep our back in top physical condition and prevent pain. Here are our top tips:
Warm up and Cool Down
Do a thorough warm-up before and cool–down after playing. Don't skip it! Each should take you about 10 minutes and include swinging your legs forward and backward, arm circles, a slow jog, jumping jacks, and rotational stretches.
Improving flexibility by stretching out the muscles of the back prevents injury. These stretches should be slow and deliberate and held for at least 30 seconds. Also, don't forget your leg muscles - tight hip flexors or hamstrings can cause an unnecessary pull on the low back.
We hear it all the time, but improving core strength will help us function better in all areas of our lives. Strong abdominal muscles provide a corset like support to the low back, providing extra stability when you twist or turn to swing your racquet.
The right tennis shoes are important to injury prevention. Pay attention to shock absorption, lateral stability, and good traction A stable support and shock attenuation when you hit the ground decreases strain on the low back muscles.
Switch Up Swings
Since we said repetitive motions often cause the most problem in tennis, back pain is often aggravated even when doing drills. In this case, switch up your swing frequently. When you avoid excessive repetition of a single kind of shot you reduce the chance of muscle strain.
If back pain does flare up, here are two tips to recovery . . .
1. Keep Moving
Complete rest is not best for back muscle strains. As much as possible, move your body to keep blood flowing and muscles agile. Walk, stretch, foam roll, or cycle as you are able to tolerate - with rest breaks as needed.
2. Shorten the court
If you are playing with back pain, try to play on just a small area of the court. Practice your footwork - taking small steps to get to the ball and always getting in the right position before hitting. In this way, your back will not be strained by overstretching to get to the ball.
Getting to the Root Cause
Often times, we find generic stretching and strengthening activities don't completely resolve back pain. A full assessment of motion control, flexibility, and spinal alignment can be necessary to guide us to specific treatment techniques.
If back pain has been plaguing your game for a while (or it just started and you don't want to risk missing a single match), schedule a call with a sports specialists today.
One of our Doctors of Physical Therapy can help you decide on the best next step for you. Schedule your complimentary call by clicking the link below.