With so many people sitting behind a desk throughout the workday, people have to make time in their already busy schedules to get the exercise they need. If that exercise can be combined with playing a sport they love, that’s even better! Australia encourages its people to consider playing tennis because of the health and mental benefits it offers.
Because tennis is an aerobic form of exercise, those who play have a lower resting heart rate and lower blood pressure. It also comes with the added benefit of increasing bone density, which is a plus for women as they age. With all the twisting and flexing that tennis requires, players gain increased flexibility, muscle tone, and strength. All that twisting and flexing also comes with some unwanted side effects.
Common Back Problems from Playing Tennis
A common complaint from avid tennis players is lower back pain. Serving the ball requires the individual to rotate the hips and upper body, flex backwards and forwards, and extend with the serving arm all the way through the legs. Overheads do much the same thing. Backhands and forehands require twisting through the lower back which may also contribute to the discomfort players experience.
Movement may cause sudden, sharp pain in the lower back, or the pain may be dull and persistent. The pain may be centered on one side and worsen with movement, or it may seem to radiate to the hip, buttocks, and back of thighs. It may also trigger muscle spasms.
Tennis does not just use the lower back, though. The entire body, including the upper back, arms, and legs, is used. As players turn while rotating and loading the hips, injuries to the upper back may occur. If a player does not maintain proper posture while on the court, the rotating while loading can cause micro-tears in the muscle which lead to muscle tightening and discomfort.
How to Avoid Back Injuries and Enjoy the Game
Being a tennis player does not have to guarantee ending up with injuries. They can be avoided by taking the time to properly warm up before starting. A proper warm-up gently prepares the muscles and heart for more extreme exercise. The stretching of muscles ahead of playing keeps them from tearing while the aerobic portion of a warm-up increases the flow of blood to the muscles and the heart rate. For a tennis player, warm-ups also mean improving posture, flexibility, and strength.
To get your back ready for flexing, twisting, and extending try these stretches from Cleveland Clinic and Stretch Coach.
- Diagonal Chop – Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Bring your left knee up to a ninety-degree bend. Take your right elbow and touch your left knee. Place your left foot back on the floor and bring your right knee up to a ninety-degree bend. With your left elbow, touch the right knee and then place your right foot back on the floor. This comprises one set. Do ten sets before playing.
- Standing Trunk Rotation – Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Place your hands on your hips with your elbows pointing out. Bend at the waist to ninety degrees. Turn left, center, right, center. Stand upright. That is one set. Do ten sets total.
- Hip and Buttocks Stretch – Sit cross-legged on the floor with your hips straight. Lean forward, stretching both arms out in front and your hands placed one on top of the other. Reach until you feel tension in your back. Hold for twenty seconds and release.
- Kneeling Back Rotation Stretch – Kneel on all four on the floor. With your back straight, raise one arm out to the side and rotate the shoulders up so your hand is above your back. Look to the ceiling as you raise your hand. Hold for twenty seconds. Lower the hand and then repeat with the opposite hand.
For your upper back, Active recommends trying these tips to prevent injury and discomfort.
- Focus on improving your posture. Don’t round your shoulders and stick your neck forward, but, rather, pull the shoulders back.
- Strengthen your upper back muscles. NBC News says that push-ups, rowing machines, swimming, and “Superman” motions all work the upper back muscles.
- Reposition the shoulders through elbow and arm curls or “dog” and “cat” yoga moves.
- Release trigger points in the tight muscles. One of the best ways to do this is to lie on your back on the floor. Place a tennis ball between the shoulder blades. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. Lift your hips off the floor and support your head with your hands. Now roll your back around on the tennis ball, letting it locate the tender places in the muscle. When you hit a tender spot, stay there until the muscle gives and then move to the next spot. You are doing your own deep tissue massage.
If tennis is your favorite form of exercise, don’t let the fear of injury keep you from playing. Instead, take proper precautions to protect your back so you can have your fun without harm. If a back injury should occur, contact Atlanta Brain and Spine Care. Their specialists will diagnose the problem and give you the proper treatment to get you back on the court quickly.