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The 5 Most Common Shoulder Injuries in Tennis and What You Can Do About It

Hey there fellow tennis enthusiasts! One thing you’ll quickly learn about me is my love for tennis. I have been wielding a racket since I was in middle school, and started playing competitively in high school. To this day I still enjoy perfecting my technique and rallying with friends from time to time. If you’re a tennis player, one thing you quickly learn is that tennis is a sport that demands a lot from the upper body, particularly the shoulders and elbows. The repetitive motions involved in serving, rallying, and smashing the ball can put significant strain on these joints thereby increasing the risk of injury. One thing we often tell our tennis players is that the area of pain is usually the victim of some lack of strength or mobility in the joints above and below. A comprehensive treatment above requires a trained therapist who treats the whole body to ensure all problem areas are addressed. So let's explore some of the most common shoulder and elbow injuries encountered by tennis players, and what you need to know to prevent them from stopping you in your tracks.

  1. Tennis Elbow (aka Lateral Epicondylitis):

Tennis elbow is perhaps the most infamous injury associated with the sport. It involves pain and inflammation on the outer part of the elbow, where the tendons of the forearm muscles attach to the bone. The repetitive motion of the backhand stroke, particularly with poor technique or a grip that's too tight, can lead to this condition. Injury to this area can impact not only your tennis game but your regular daily activities, like lifting a coffee cup, reaching into kitchen cabinets, and even sleeping. Treatment requires hands on physical therapy to loosen the tight areas around the elbow, as well as strengthening exercises for the shoulder and wrist. Dry needling to this area is also an effective tool that most therapists utilize for tennis elbow.

2. Rotator Cuff Tears:

What most people do not know is that your rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and tendons that work to move your arm in various directions and stabilize the shoulder joint. The group of muscles  lie under the larger deltoid muscles and actually attach to both the shoulder blade and shoulder joint. These smaller muscles provide the rotational and overhead power required in tennis and because of that can quickly become injured. Overuse, improper technique, or sudden impacts can cause tears or inflammation in these tissues. Tennis players, especially those who frequently serve or hit overhead shots, are susceptible to rotator cuff injuries. A tear to the rotator cuff can happen immediately or over time but the majority of players will report pain in the front or side of the shoulder that occurs when raising the arm away from the body, behind the back,  or during sleep. Having a solid warm up routine prior to playing, along with a low weight, high rep strengthening program can prevent these sorts of injuries. That’s where having a skilled physical therapist is important to ensure your workout program targets all the necessary rotator cuff muscles.

3. Shoulder Impingement Syndrome:

Shoulder impingement occurs when the tendons of the rotator cuff become pinched between the bones of the shoulder within this ball and socket joint.. The overhead motions in tennis, such as serving and overhead shots, can exacerbate this condition, leading to pain and inflammation. This injury often occurs because of poor mechanics or a lack of motion needed to achieve power in these overhead positions. Physical therapy is required to address this issue via joint mobilization techniques, meaning loosening up the joint itself to prevent the pinching. Most patients enjoy this treatment because it feels good and it frees up the painful tendons; thus, improving their range of motion. The joint mobilization is then followed up with targeted exercises to ensure the muscles can stabilize the joint and prevent further impingement of the tissues.

4. Shoulder Tendonitis:

Tendonitis, or inflammation of the tendons in the shoulder, is one of the most common injuries we see in our tennis players. Similar to tennis elbow, it is caused by the repetitive nature of the sport. Continuous stress from serving, rallying, and smashing the ball can lead to overuse injuries in the shoulder, resulting in pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion. Taking a little power out of your stroke or serve and adding more control can significantly improve this problem. Oftentimes, treatment for this includes mobility drills to loosen the upper back and neck along with rotator cuff strengthening exercises. We also encourage our players to do clinics with a tennis pro who can watch you move on the court and give you tips to improve your form.

5. Elbow Tendonitis (aka Medial Epicondylitis):

Also known as golfer's elbow, medial epicondylitis can happen in tennis too! Similar to traditional tennis elbow, medial epicondylitis involves pain and inflammation, but on the inner side of the elbow where the tendons of the forearm muscles attach. This condition can develop when serving a tennis ball with too much force or adding extra spin to your forehand or serve. Additionally,  repetitive forehand motions or improper grip technique can aggravate this condition. Just like lateral epicondylitis, hands-on physical therapy to loosen the tight areas around the elbow, as well as strengthening exercises for the shoulder and wrist will usually do the trick. Dry needling or KT tape to the painful area can also assist with and speed up recovery.

Physical therapy plays a pivotal role in injury prevention for tennis players of all levels. We at Functionize can help athletes reduce their risk of shoulder and elbow injuries in tennis through a combination of proper technique, adequate warm-up, and strengthening exercises targeting the muscles around these joints. It's essential to listen to your body, take breaks when needed, and avoid overexertion. Using proper equipment, such as a correctly sized racket and supportive tennis shoes, can also help reduce the risk of injury. Our therapists at Functionize specialize in tennis athletes and can enhance overall performance on the court. If you experience persistent pain or discomfort in your shoulders or elbows while playing tennis come visit us at Functionize Health where you will receive a full hour of one-on-one treatment. Ignoring symptoms or playing through pain can worsen injuries and prolong recovery time. By taking proactive steps to protect your shoulders and elbows, you can continue to enjoy the game of tennis safely and sustainably. Schedule your appointment today at or call 404-907-4196.

Thanks for reading!

Shiv Patel DPT

Meet Shiv Patel, a physical therapist with a genuine passion for helping individuals achieve their optimal physical well-being. With his extensive experience and unwavering dedication, he brings a wealth of knowledge and compassion to every client he serves.

Shiv is born and raised in the small southern town of Tifton, Georgia. He embarked on his journey to become a physical therapist at Mercer University where he earned his undergraduate degree in Psychology. His perseverance led him to obtain his Doctorate of Physical Therapy at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine - GA, equipping him with the necessary tools and knowledge to make an impactful change in people’s lives.

Shiv has a  passion for treating tennis/pickleball patients whether they are new to the game or seasoned competitors. Specializing in rehabilitation, injury prevention, and performance enhancement, Shiv utilizes a holistic approach to tailor treatment plans that address each client's unique needs and goals. From hands-on techniques to targeted exercises and education, he empowers clients to take an active role in their recovery journey. 

Beyond his clinical practice, Shiv is deeply committed to staying current with the latest research and advancements in the field of physical therapy. He believes in fostering open communication and trust with his clients, creating a supportive environment where individuals feel heard, valued, and motivated to achieve their best outcomes.

Outside of the clinic, Shiv enjoys attending social sporting events cheering on the Atlanta teams. When he is not cheering on his team he can be found hiking outdoors or playing tennis/pickleball. He also enjoys spending his time trying out the different cuisines Decatur Downtown has to offer. He finds inspiration in promoting holistic health and wellness in his community. With a warm and compassionate approach, he is excited to be working in the Decatur clinic and looks forward to partnering with you on your path to renewed mobility, strength, and vitality.

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