US Open tennis doc explains injury prevention

Everyone's talking tennis, now that the US Open Tennis Championships is in full swing.

The Aug. 26 tournament, held in Flushing Meadows, Queens, brings world-class athletes to New York City to compete in one the sport's major grand slam events. While most people at the tournament will be watching to see who wins, one doctor will be sitting on the sidelines making sure nobody gets injured.

Dr. Alexis Colvin is a surgeon and assistant professor of orthopaedics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, serves as chief medical officer for the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and the US Open tournament.

Colvin explains that world-class, well-trained tennis pros suffer the same injuries as amateur players.That's because unlike high-impact sports like football or hockey that can derail a career early, tennis players often play throughout their lives.

"What this does mean, however, is that the injuries tend to be overuse injuries," said Colvin.

Sprains, strains of joints like the shoulder, elbow, knee and ankle tend to be the most common. One of the most common ailments experienced by tennis players in these joints is tendinitis.

Our bones are connected to our muscles by flexible tissue bands called tendons, which help the muscles move bone. Repeated injury or overuse can lead the tendon to swell, which is called tendinitis. Tennis elbow is a form of tendinitis that causes pain outside the elbow. While it commonly occurs in tennis players, it can also be seen in roofers, carpenters and others that have jobs that require repetitive movements, according to Mt. Sinai.

Tennis players in particular may develop the injury from improper technique, using the wrong-sized racquet (such as the wrong grip or head size) or one with improper tension of its strings, or by simply doing too many tennis strokes.

"There are ways that you can correct it," according to Colvin.

Besides seeing a trainer to learn proper technique and make sure you're using the right racquet, sometimes it helps to do a two-handed backhand to take the stress off one arm. Physical therapy might strengthen the muscles supporting the elbow, or a counterforce brace ("tennis elbow brace") that one wears on the forearm could take tension off the muscles.

As for the lower body, patellar tendinitis is a common tennis injury in which the tendon in the front of the knee becomes swollen, causing pain. Such injuries occur in sports that require frequent jumping and they're commonly seen in basketball players, she points out.

Other lower body injuries include calf strains and Achilles tendinitis -- swelling of the tendon in back of the knee -- which can lead to tearing.

The best way to treat these lower body injuries is stretching, she said. Also, avoid landing on the balls of your feet when jumping to reduce Achilles' risks, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) adds.

Another possible health woe from tennis is plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the tissue on the sole of your foot, which can also be caused by overuse. Rest is the best remedy for the condition, according to the AAOS, but a tennis shoe with medial arch support or a heel cup could help reduce pain.

If you're sore after playing tennis, some ibuprofen or rest might do the trick, according to Colvin. But persistent pain -- the type that doesn't go away, or that wakes you up at night - along with numbness, tingling or weakness are warning signs you should see a doctor.

Her take-home advice for tennis lovers looking to play like pros is to work on their overall athleticism instead of just focusing on their serve.

"A lot of people think that if I just go out and play tennis 24 hours a day, I'm going to improve my game," said Colvin. "But if you look at the pros...they're also working on things like endurance, flexibility, strength training and core strengthening. These are all things that even weekend warriors should focus on as well."

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