Focus on Your Backhand Not Your Back Pain

by Dr. Michelle Collie, PT, DPT, MS, OCS

Have you ever suffered from back pain during the tennis season? If so, you’re not alone - back pain is the most common complaint from tennis players.

While playing tennis, you will use a large degree of trunk rotation and twisting of the spine every time you swing. When serving, the low back also extends, adding an extra strain. In addition, all of the quick forward and sideways movements and sudden start-and-stop motions can cause the back muscles to become over-worked. After a long match with friends, or just practice on your own, your back can become strained, and the pain could last for hours or even days.

To help avoid this back pain, tennis players should try the following:

1.) Get fitted for a tennis racket by a professional. More flexible tennis rackets require more trunk rotation than stiffer rackets with looser strings. A professional can determine the best racket to use based on your ability and body type. 

2.) Have a tennis pro check your form, especially if you are new to the game. Proper form will help you avoid added stress on your back.

3.) Use a slice serve. If you have a history of back pain, you should consider using the slice serve rather than a kick serve to reduce the degree of back extension.

4.) Cross train! Participate in a regular conditioning program that includes cardiovascular exercise (such as swimming, biking, walking, or running), stretching to maintain flexibility, and strength training to improve performance.

5.) Avoid risk factors for back pain. These include maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding smoking, and keeping good posture habits.

6.) Strengthen your core! Below, I describe some of the best ways to strengthen your deep core which will improve your back pain and provide support to help prevent future injuries.

Core Strengthening

Studies have demonstrated that strengthening the deep abdominal muscles is incredibly important, as they provide support for the low back and help stabilize the spine.

When this muscle isn’t strong enough, the spine feels added stress, increasing the risk of injury and pain. These muscles are more likely to be weak for anyone who has suffered from low back pain in the past. Studies have found that during episodes of back pain these muscle stop contracting and unless the person specifically exercises and trains them, it fails to return to its role in providing stability to the low back. This can be a contributing factor in why people have repeated episodes of back pain.

One of the most important ways to increase your awareness of these abdominal muscles, so you can begin using them for all sports, recreational activities, and daily life, is to simply learn how to hold your lower abdominals in. It seems simple, but it can take some practice. The exercises below will help you identify and strengthen your underlying deep core muscles. As you practice these, you may find your game improving, as the added stability, strength, and control of your trunk promotes improved strength and control of your arms and legs.

Click here to download this exercise!

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