Everyone who plays tennis at a high level knows the harmful effects the nature of the sport can have on their body. The quick bursts of acceleration, split second changes of direction, violent overhead shots, and stopping on a dime can not only cause immediate injury, but can lead to chronic pain in the shoulder, knees, elbow, hip, and back. This article will focus on one of the more common areas of injury associated with tennis: the shoulder.
Nature has given the shoulder a wonderful array of movement abilities. We can essentially place our arm in any position our body isn’t. This high degree of mobility comes with a price. The most mobile joint in our body can create great amounts of force in all 3 dimensions of movement. The resulting forces can also become the greatest contributor to injury. The inherent stability of the shoulder is tested when serve velocities and ground strokes reach near maximum speeds. Movement mechanics become altered through a slow steady dose of repetitive movement in one direction.
The motion of the serve and groundstroke over time will stretch the anterior muscles of the shoulder creating more laxity at the shoulder joint. While this will help to increase arm speed and power, it sets the shoulder up for possible future injury. The shoulder’s braking mechanism also becomes stressed as something needs to be able to slow down all this forward speed and rotation. The posterior capsule of the shoulder can become tight as a result. The overall imbalances that are created in the ligaments, tendons and muscles of the shoulder can create a non-optimal resting length of these soft tissues.
Common injuries of the shoulder associated with the tennis serve and ground strokes typically start out as internal impingement. The rotator cuff tendons and soft tissue structures in the sub-acromial space of the shoulder continue to get squished between the bones of the humerus and acromion with every overhead service motion. This eventually leads to tendonitis which is the precursor to rotator cuff tears. This can become especially problematic with people who have sub optimal shoulder blade motion (the ability of the shoulder blade to rotate up when arm is lifted). Training the shoulder to be able to withstand the repetitive forces and movements means a comprehensive approach that not only focuses on the rotator cuff, but also the functional stability of the shoulder blade (scapula).
The customary exercises we see for the rotator cuff are band resisted internal and external rotation. While these types of exercises have their place and can be effective, we must note that the true function of the rotator cuff musculature is to stabilize motion of the arm, not to produce it. Utilizing exercises that stress the rotator cuff to work hard on stabilizing motion for a period of time will go far in training the reflexive firing components of the muscles in line with their true function.
Famed Physical Therapist, Shirley Sahrmann says, “clinically based observations suggest that most syndromes involving the shoulder arise from impairments in the timing and control of scapular motion.” In addition to training the rotator cuff musculature, it is imperative that time is also spent training the scapula (shoulder blade). The two work together and dysfunction in one will lead to dysfunction of the other. Our next post will help you take your training to the next level with three exercises to incorporate into your routine today!
** WTA player and EleVen by Venus brand ambassador Jarmila Gajdošová is wearing our Flutter Skort and Walkover V Neck Tee - see more Tennis styles in our SHOP.