Tennis season is in full swing (get it?), which means it’s prime time for getting injured out on the court. Everyone from experienced tennis pros to kids at their first tennis camp can get hurt if they aren’t training the right way, so we called OrthoCarolina to find out how to make it through the season injury-free.
It’s safe to say our expert Dr. Patrick Connor, a sports medicine surgeon, knows his stuff both on and off the court — he swung a racket for the first time when he was just three years old! Now he serves as head team physician to the Carolina Panthers as well as several NFL Pro Bowls. He told us about the most common injuries for adults and kids, and how to avoid them.
If your shoulder is smarting, Dr. Connor says the most likely culprit is your rotator cuff. It can be caused by tendonitis or bursitis and is often related to overuse, a new racquet, new strings, hitting your serve differently, etc.
Treat it: Try to figure out the root cause. Did you suddenly start playing a lot? If so, take a step back and ease back in gradually. Is it an equipment issue like a wider grip and tight new strings? Talk to your tennis pro about how to handle it.
Prevent it: Dr. Connor suggests doing specialized exercises on days when you’re not playing. Going out on the court shouldn’t be the only time your shoulders are ever used. Work with bands and weights to keep your shoulder muscles strong, even if you’re not playing that day.
Your knees are susceptible to tendonitis and overuse issues just like your shoulders.
Treat it: If your only symptoms are soreness and tenderness after playing, you’re probably safe treating it with an anti-inflammatory drug like Motrin or Advil. However, if your knee is swollen, catching or locking, Dr. Connor says to call a professional immediately — it could be a meniscus injury.
Prevent it: Just like with your shoulders, you need to pay attention to your knees on off-days. Focus on exercises that will help you stretch your leg muscles. On playing days, make sure you’re warming up the muscles by stretching both before and after you hit the court.
You’ve probably heard of “tennis elbow,” which is just another name for tendonitis in the tendons on the outside of your elbow. “Golfer’s elbow” the same thing for the outside of your elbow. Dr. Connor says he sees these types of injuries most commonly when the player suddenly changes the quantity of play (i.e. joining three leagues all at once) or gets a new racquet.
Treat it: Just like with the shoulder, Dr. Connor says to try and determine the root cause of your pain. A good place to start is figuring out what you’ve changed lately. Did you suddenly start playing a lot? If so, take a step back and ease back in gradually. Is it an equipment issue like a wider grip and tight new strings? Talk to your tennis pro about how to handle it.
Prevent it: Keep working on stretching and strengthening on your off days.
If your back’s sore after a tennis match, Dr. Connor says it’s almost always a strain from twisting, turning or reaching up and down. Lower back problems are common, but your neck can be at risk also.
Treat it: Ice the area and take anti-inflammatory meds. Dr. Connor says most mild tennis injuries will resolve themselves within a week or so if you modify the activity. However, if the function of a joint is hampered or doesn’t respond to routine treatment, you’ll need to call a doctor.
Prevent it: Dr. Connor says tennis players must maintain their flexibility, especially as they get older. He suggests strengthening the core by doing exercises like plank and sit-ups. “If a ball is a few feet away from us, we really challenge our flexibility when we go over and get it in the heat of a match,” he said. “It helps to be prepared.”
FOR THE KIDDOS
The most common issue for young players is overuse — they play from 9 a.m. until the sun goes down and go to tennis camp for a whole week.
Be aware: Dr. Connor says it’s important to keep track of how much your kid is playing, and be ready to intervene if it seems like too much. The shoulder and elbow are common culprits for pain in young players. If your little one is complaining of pain after hitting serves over and over, have them take a step back, let it rest and get back at it later.
WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR
If you have these symptoms, call the experts at Ortho Carolina:
• It’s been a week, I’ve modified my activity and the pain is still not going anywhere.
• The function of my joint has been hampered
• I have an obvious severe injury (like falling directly on a wrist out on the court)
• My knee is swollen, catching or locking
ABOUT OUR EXPERT
Patrick Connor, MD is a sports medicine surgeon with OrthoCarolina and has served as head team physician to the Carolina Panthers for 18 years, as well as several NFL Pro Bowls. As an NFL doctor and member and former president of the NFL Physicians’ Society, he plays a role in the creation of very specific NFL recommendations, guidelines and protocols for treatment of different injuries. Dr. Connor is also head team physician for Joe Gibbs Racing, the Charlotte Knights and Providence Day School.
With focuses in arthroscopic and reconstructive knee surgery, shoulder care and shoulder surgery, Dr. Connor’s clinical specialties also include shoulder and elbow, sports medicine and trauma. He has served as a member of American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, and published research in journals such as the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery. He received his medical degree from the Oklahoma College of Medicine and completed his residency at Carolinas Medical Center. He also completed a fellowship in shoulder surgery at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City.
A four-time state high school singles champion in the state of Oklahoma, Dr. Connor was a scholarship and All-American tennis player at Oklahoma State University.