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Tennis is an incredibly popular sport in the United States with almost 18 million recreational and professional players. With new technology and advances, the ball is flying faster than ever before which means we have to be going faster to keep up. This puts additional strain and pressure on our already taxed feet which can leave us open to many types of tennis injuries.
Ankle sprains are the most common tennis injury and can take a player out of the game for weeks or months at a time. Rapid changes in direction and jumping are two highest risk factors for ankle sprains and tennis has both. Ankle sprains happen when the ligaments of the ankle (most often the interior ligaments) are stretched or even torn due to unnatural movement of the ankle. Some players will wear an ankle brace on a weak ankle as a precaution. This is especially important if you have had prior ankle sprains as you have a higher reinjury risk.
You would recognize this injury as a pool of blood beneath your big toenail. The constant direction changes in tennis cause your feet to slide around inside your shoes. This can put undue pressure on the front of the toes and cause bruising beneath the nail. Your podiatrist can release the pressure and drain the blood in a single office visit. After bandaging, you can get back on the court, but if the nail needs to be removed, you might be out for a week or more.
These occur mostly in the calf and foot. Cramps are caused by loss of blood flow due to dehydration. Staying hydrated, wearing appropriate sweat-wicking clothing, and stretching before exercise can all help avoid muscle cramps. If you cramp during a match, you must rest completely until you have rehydrated and stretched. If you don’t, you could lead yourself down a path to chronic injury.
Straining of the calf muscle is a common occurrence in tennis and can take a player out for weeks. Everyone has a dominant leg and usually it is just a bit stronger than the other. You may also have imbalanced muscle groups (such as your thighs being stronger than your calves) which can lead to injury. If you land on the wrong foot or use your weaker leg to push off for a move, you could cause micro-tears in the muscle. Over time, this can cause chronic issues. Rest and physical therapy are the best ways to overcome muscle strains.
We talk about plantar fasciitis a lot because it is one of the most common causes of foot and heel pain. The plantar fascia, a band of tissue across the bottom of the foot, is used in every walking and running movement. When it is stretched or torn, it can cause intense pain. Wearing the right shoes with custom orthotics and stretching are great ways to avoid plantar fasciitis. If you experience heel pain, start with RICE and keep resting for longer than you normally would (a few weeks rather than a few days). If the issue does not resolve, you may need injections, tapings, casts, or even surgery. Resting now can avoid a longer recovery time later.
Tendonitis can be acute, caused by a sudden increase in exercise, or it can be chronic, a prolonged injury that flares up over time. Either way, it isn’t something you want to deal with. Keep your Achilles and calf muscle loose with daily stretching and strengthening exercises. Limited mobility of the ankle and tightness when you point your toes are signs that your Achilles tendon is stiff and could be susceptible to injury. Wearing a heel lift, especially when you are off the court, can help relieve strain on the Achilles.
This injury is more common amongst older tennis players because their heel pads (the fatty cushioning under your heel) have worn down over time and there is no longer enough cushioning between your heel and the ground. This injury is easy to treat with rest, ice, and extra padding in your tennis shoes. Talk to your podiatrist about gel heel cups to soften the impact. You’ll also want to see your podiatrist to rule out heel fractures which can present with bruising.
Although there are a lot of potential risks in tennis, many of them are easy to avoid when you stretch, wear the proper shoes, and exercise caution with your running and jumping. If you are experiencing a tennis-related foot or ankle injury, come see the FAAWC. We have more experience at keeping athletes on the court and can help put you back in the game, not benched on the sidelines. Don’t give up the sport you love because of a simple injury. Come see us today.