April 12th, 2013

Health N' Sports: Tennis Court Transition

Staff Report

Health N' Sports: Tennis Court Transition
photo from blogspot.com

As a part of the Louisville Orthopaedic Clinic, the Sports Rehab Team physical therapists are knowledgeable and trained in the latest advancements and techniques available in sports rehabilitation.

On a weekly basis, the Health N’ Sports Update will give information on prevention, recovery, and include special offers, as well as general health tips that would be beneficial to all. If there is a specific topic you’d like to know or hear more about, email future suggestions to editor@catholicsportsnet.com.

As the weather gets warmer and summer approaches, tennis players will find themselves getting outside onto different court surfaces.  Adult leagues often utilize outdoor hard courts as well as clay courts, and kids who play tennis year-round often play clay court tournaments or country club team tennis.  Clay courts are often a favorite for players welcoming the softer surface after a winter indoors.  The softer surface provides more shock absorption than hard courts and thus can be easier on the joints.  Many players also enjoy how slow clay is, as points tend to involve longer rallies which is more fun and better exercise.  Since the clay slows the ball, the stress on the hitting arm can be reduced which can decrease the common elbow or wrist overuse injuries.  Studies have shown lower rate of injury on clay compared to other surfaces, but it is important to note the potential for injury that comes with a sudden change in court surface.

Potential problems:

Clay is soft and tends to be slow in terms of how fast the ball moves following the bounce.  In contrast, the lines on clay courts are usually made of plastic and can be extremely slick.  When the tennis ball bounces on a line it can change direction quickly which could lead to shoulder injuries, sprained ankles, or muscle strains. 

Clay is a slippery surface, especially when one is moving around at higher speeds.  Tennis requires a lot of quick stopping and starting and direction changes which can be more difficult on the clay.  If one is unaccustomed to clay it is easier to slip on the surface, resulting in lower extremity injuries.

Clay courts have variations in quality depending on where you are.  An ill-maintained court may have irregularities and small ditches that can trip players. The weather can also affect the quality of the court, as unanticipated wet or excessively dry patches can cause a sprained ankle or knee.

Because clay courts are slow, rallies can be longer resulting in longer matches.  Increased match time coupled with the heat of summer can be hard on the player.  A body unaccustomed to such conditions will be more prone to injuries due to muscle fatigue.

Tips to avoid injury:

Learn to slide:  The pros at the French Open make sliding look easy.  It actually takes practice to time your slide so that you are able to stop in time to strike the ball.  Start to practice sliding during some easy hitting sessions so you have better timing during matches. 

Flexibility work: Sliding itself can actually cause injuries- not everyone is meant to do the splits like the men and women we see on T.V.  Flexibility work is crucial to avoid muscle injuries from over-stretching during a slide.  The most common muscles involved are the hamstrings, groin (adductors), and hip flexors, but ankle joint flexibility and stability is also important.  A regimen of static and dynamic stretching will address the necessary muscle groups to minimize risk of injury.

Agility work:  Many shots that would be “put aways” on hard court can be kept in play on the clay.  Working on lateral movement, quick starts and stops, and fast footwork drills will better prepare the player to get to the short or wide shots.  Agility drills will also help with joint stability and proprioception, which are necessary for injury prevention.

Endurance work:  The slowness of the clay court leads to longer rallies because it is harder to put the ball away.  To avoid fatiguing more quickly than normal, spend some time in the winter and spring working on endurance with biking or running in addition to tennis-specific agility work.

Mercy Academy Tennis Coach Ryane Resmondo gives her opinion on tennis courts and safety:

"Indoor season for tennis has a lot of differences compared to outdoor play for tennis. For play that is inside, you don't have to deal with sun, wind, noise, etc.  It takes a week or two weeks to adjust from inside to outside play. I'm personally a big fan of clay courts. They are a little slower than hard courts, but they are much cooler in the hot summer and they are much easier on the body. Although the clay court will give you a lot of different bounces, you are able to slide much easier and the clay provides a softer impact on the joints. The courts are very different and can take a little time to adjust from one to the other. Tennis players get all types of injuries. Most common injuries would probably be pulled muscles or torn ligaments. In order to prevent injuries, it is best to stretch before matches and warm up properly. I make my players wear hats to cover their faces and drink lots of water for safety. Some great workouts for getting into tennis shape are the following: jumping rope, wind sprints, squats, lunges and anything to build leg strength and promote endurance. Also, a strong core and good balance goes a long way on the court."

Louisville Orthopaedic Clinic & Sports Rehab Center

Main Office: 502-897-1794

Physical Therapy: 502-897-1790

Website: louortho.com

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