Avoiding Arm Stiffness

Q. "I am 62 years old and have been playing tennis for 57 years and have a national ranking in the M60. Currently, I am retired and play tennis every day simply because I enjoy it, I feel better, and I sleep better. I have noticed that I if play really hard one day, usually in a tournament, the next day my arm is stiff, which is no problem except for my serve. I feel most people need a fluid, flexible arm to serve well – I know I do. My question is: What can I do to reduce the stiffness in my arm after playing really hard so I can serve well the next day?"

From Kenny S., Highland Park, IL:

My dad, Rick Sommer, has similar problems, as he competes and teaches at Midtown, Chicago. You might want to find a lighter Wilson racquet that could take off some of the tension to your arm. After you play, you should ice your arm a couple of times and do some stretching. You probably should get some professional massage work done on it when you can. Anti-inflammatory drugs also help with the pain, and maybe a muscle relaxant, but not when you are playing.

There could be something wrong with the technique of one of your shots that is causing the problem. Maybe have a pro look at your game to see if he or she sees anything. Honestly, you probably also need to cut back a little on your playing time – a little rest period of a day or two every once in awhile. I also like heat on the arm or other body parts, then giving your self a deep massage on the arm. Doctors say heat just makes it more inflamed, but with massage, stretching and some rest, it could help a lot. Ice after you play, and maybe take some over-the-counter pain medications before you play. The body can only take so much, so know your limits. Maybe do some cross training. Good luck in your future matches.

From Shawn B., Bloomfield Hills, MI:

It's great that you are playing so often. Remember to stretch after you play. It's just as important as your routine before a match.

Also, icing is very helpful for preserving muscle function. It is useful, even if you do not have a specific injury. Apply an ice pack to the arm and shoulder for at least 20 minutes after playing. You may find a large cold pack at a local medical equipment provider or from a physical therapist.

Your arm soreness may be the manifestation of a previous injury. You do not want to develop a serious muscle strain/tear that would not allow you to continue playing. Listen to your body. It may need a bit of rest every other day.

From Coach Poppie, Palm Bay, FL:

Jim, you are three years my senior, so I can relate. ICE it, immediately upon match completion. Warm the arm before your next match, and then ICE it again. Repeat until you have completed play. ICE it. ICE it. ICE it. ICE it. The ice, of course, should help minimize joint swelling, and the application of a heat (real heat not a chemical rug) will warm and relax the area before play resumes. My doctor has me on Celebrex. Check with yours for what will work best for you. You can also repeat the cycle at home – 20-minute cold, 20 warm for three cycles.

From Jeff J., Bradenton, FL:

Jim, I would apply ice to your arm after playing. The service motion and the wear on your arm is very much like a baseball pitcher’s. Icing the arm after matches will help your stiffness and reduce the pain associated. Try applying the ice for about 30 minutes, and see if that helps. Good luck. It is worth a try.

From Peter K., Chester Springs, PA:

Start with the big picture and set some goals:

• Plan to enjoy tennis as long as you can.

• Try ice on the elbow after each time you play to treat minor swelling that may cause a physical change for the next day.

• Talk to your doctor about it at your next appointment. My doctor told me that the Glucosamine I started to take is a good thing but to increase the amount I was taking. He also prescribed Celebrex, which may not be right for you. Your doctor could possibly suggest something. Don’t overlook that possibility. Involve your doctor in your plans to help you enjoy life.

• Take a lesson with a good professional. You are never too good of a player to enjoy and benefit from a lesson. I believe Brad Gilbert is looking for work! Have the professional look at the mechanics of your serve. He may see something no one else noticed.

• Consider all of the possible effects of aging. Slowing down is the right thing for some. I say don’t do it until you decide for yourself. Fight back as well as you can, even though age will eventually win!

I am older than you and not as accomplished, but I bet I enjoy the game just as much. All of the above are what I believe in and do myself.

Keep enjoying tennis, and help others do the same!

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