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Ask the High Performance Lab -- August 9

May 25, 2008 12:25 PM

PLEASE NOTE: The medical opinions in USTA.com's Ask the High Performance Lab are responses intended for the average player. Please consult with your primary physician before beginning any new exercise program.

Todd Ellenbecker, Chairman of the USTA Sport Science Committee. Todd is a physical therapist and clinic director of Physiotherapy Associates Scottsdale Sports Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona.© USTA
Q: Hi- After being away from tennis for years, I decided to play again at a competitive level. At the age of 45 my body clearly needs to be reeducated with specific tennis movements. I have had a partial calf tear and quadriceps pull in the last ten weeks...what can you suggest for this former Division 1 player. Is there hope?

A: Yes, there is. The minor injuries you report are not surprising given you took some time away from the game; your 45 year old body is trying very hard to re-adapt to the movements that your much younger body used to do in a repetitive way. The calf tear and quadriceps pull are examples of muscular strains, where the muscle is overloaded - most likely due to the repetitive use they experience as you play tennis. We would recommend getting your body in better condition prior to resuming the high level of play you are striving for.

For example, ensure that your body has a solid aerobic base by conditioning yourself, perhaps on an exercise bike three times a week for 30 minutes. This will improve your cardiovascular function and endurance as well as your muscular strength. In addition, it is very important to perform an active warm-up prior to playing, especially given the injuries you are reporting.

Ensure that your body is properly warmed up by doing some light jogging around the court and some dynamic movements such as shuffling, lunges, and butt kicks. This will help you prepare your legs for some of the stresses they experience when playing tennis.

(Note: The USTA has just released a DVD called “Dynamic Tennis Warm-Ups” that is packed with ideas to help you warm up before playing – you can purchase this DVD by contacting Human Kinetics at www.humankinetics.com or by calling 1-800-747-4457).

Also, after you play, be sure to stretch your calves and hamstrings and quadriceps using slow holds (static stretching). Improving your aerobic fitness, properly warming up, and stretching should help make your return to tennis both more enjoyable and injury free.

Q: I have a 15-year-old daughter who plays Junior competition tennis. She about 5"2 105 pounds. Very strong lower body, smaller frame up top. She plays against girls much bigger. She hangs with them and often beats them. But after playing against a hard hitter she gets back pain from stretching for some returns. Any suggestions to help get stronger or prevent back pain.

A: Core stability is a vitally important part of any athlete’s training program, and in this case it is vitally important to provide stabilization to the lower back. Performing exercises on an exercise ball for example would prove very effective in increasing core stability for your daughter. Sit-ups and arm and leg extensions are only 2 examples of wide range of exercises that can be done on the stability ball.

Research has shown that tennis players of elite level typically have very strong abdominal muscles, but relatively weak lower back muscles. Therefore, exercises such as the superman (lie on the ground on your stomach, and raise both arms and legs off the ground approximately 3-5 inches, hold for 1-2 seconds and return to rest position) can be helpful to provide muscular balance to the back side of the core.

Playing catch with a medicine ball is also very good, especially using a rotation pattern like you would use when hitting a groundstroke. Be sure to use a light medicine ball (4-6 pound ball), as you will want to do a lot of repetitions to build muscular endurance. Finally, consult your local strength and conditioning professional who is familiar with tennis and is skilled at working with tennis players. They will be able to ensure that the exercises your daughter is doing with the balls is safe and effective. Good Luck.

Q: I suddenly have been having issues with my Achilles tendon area. It started with plantar fasciitis in my left foot. When that finally got better and I started playing and working out again my Achilles tendon in my right foot became Inflamed and sore. Everyone I went to, just said stretch it, stretch it, stretch it. Any other good ideas or stretches you might suggest for this problem? It is becoming very frustrating. I am 48 years old and had never had any problems like this before.

A: In addition to the stretching, I would recommend having your foot structure evaluated by an orthopedic surgeon or physical therapist. Some players have very flat feet, which creates greater loads in the Achilles tendon by decreasing the efficiency of the foot during the propulsive phase of running and walking. You may be a candidate for orthotics.

Orthotics are shoe inserts that support the foot when you walk and can reduce the stresses placed on some of the structures in your foot. Also, making sure that the shoe you are using is properly fit and changed at regular intervals is very important. Ice can be effective in reducing the inflammation and pain and should be applied after playing for 20-30 minutes or after any strenuous lower body activity.

Bio for Todd Ellenbecker:

All answers to this weeks “Ask the Expert” column are provided by Todd Ellenbecker, Chairman of the USTA Sport Science Committee. Todd is a physical therapist and clinic director of Physiotherapy Associates Scottsdale Sports Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona. He received his degree in physical therapy from the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse in 1985 and a master's degree in exercise physiology from Arizona State University in 1989. In addition, he is a certified sports clinical specialist, an orthopedic clinical specialist by the American Physical Therapy Association, and a certified strength and conditioning specialist. He is also a certified USPTA tennis teaching professional.

If you would like to submit a question that may be answered by our Health & Fitness team or want to share an idea for a future column, please click here.

Also, click here for a complete archive of USTA.com's Health & Fitness and Ask the High Performance Lab columns.



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