Q&A: Picking the right equipment and preventing injuries
Dr. Alexis Colvin is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine and a professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She has treated players at the US Open since 2009 and is the current Chief Medical Officer of the US Open, as well as the team physician for the U.S. Billie Jean King Cup team.
A member of the USTA's sport science committee, Colvin has also served as a physician at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. and was recognized on the inaugural Crain’s “Notable Women in the Business of Sports” list.
A graduate of Princeton University and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Colvin completed her orthopedic surgery residency at New York University and her sports medicine fellowship at the internationally-renowned University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. She specializes in the treatment of knee, shoulder and hip disorders.
In the below Q&A, Colvin discusses the importance of tennis equipment on a player's overall physical health, and how to prevent injuries.
Read more: Q&A: The health benefits of tennis
Why is it important to have the correct equipment when playing tennis? How can incorrect equipment impact you physically on the court?
One of the benefits of being the team physician for the Billie Jean King Cup team is that I really get to pick the brains of all the other tennis professionals that I get to work with. One of them includes the stringer for the team, and so I've really learned the importance of the right racquet head size, the right grip size and string tension, and how even small adjustments in the equipment can make a big difference not only in performance, but also in preventing injury.
For instance, something like overgrip, which costs just a couple of dollars, is really important to change on a regular basis because that helps prevent blisters and slipping of the racquet. String tension and string size can also contribute to elbow, shoulder and wrist problems when they're not appropriate for you. I know not everyone has access to a professional stringer; however, I would encourage that if you have a coach that you're working with, a lot of times they're fairly knowledgeable in terms of what you should be using, so that's always a great resource to go to.
I would also emphasize the importance of working with a coach on technique. I think in any sport, or any activity that we do, you can always learn or refine something by working with a professional. Even if you are very experienced tennis professional, I would definitely encourage someone who is having any shoulder, elbow, wrist, or even lower extremity problems, that there may be something that you could tweak in your technique that can make a big difference. Case in point, we look at these professional tennis players who are at the top of their games and they're still working with coaches because there's always something to be refined or improved upon.
Equipment covers many areas. Why is something like a change of clothes important for a tennis player to have?
If you're a heavy sweater, it's always helpful to have that dry pair of clothes to change into and even a second pair of socks for same reason. If you're sweating and you're prone to blisters, it's helpful to have that extra pair of dry socks to change into.
With your background and your career in medicine, you've worked with many different sports, Olympic athletes, professional football players, ice hockey players and, of course, professional tennis players. What advice do you give your athletes to prevent injuries?
I would say one of the most important things that we don't really think about is the "before and after." What I mean by that is, a lot of times we're so focused on performance on the court, that not enough attention is paid to the preparation and then also the recovery; they're both equally important to what you're doing on the court, especially as we get older.
To start with preparation, it's the little things like making sure you're hydrated, wearing sunscreen, having a change of clothes, and also the things you do on the off days—the cross training, recovery, getting enough sleep, nutrition and hydration. I would say that the top players are spending an equal amount of time on the bookends of the prevention and the recovery, as well as their performance on the court.
The summer months are approaching and with that, it gets really hot out. Cramping is one of the biggest concerns on the tennis court. What are some things a player can do to help reduce the chances of cramping when they're on the court during the summer months?
There are a number of tips I would give you. The first thing is to make sure that your fitness level is appropriate for the level that you're playing. That goes back to cross training when you're not actually hitting the tennis ball. Number two is, don't wait until you're thirsty before drinking. Hydration really starts not only a couple of hours before, but maybe even the day before. There are very specific numbers in terms of the amount of salt you should be taking in, as well as the number of ounces.
In terms of overall sun protection, make sure that you have light-colored clothing as well as clothing that's going to wick away sweat; darker clothing is going to absorb the heat. Try to stay out of the sun, if possible, between the hours of about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and also wear sunscreen and have a hat. If you do get hot, in addition to the hydration, you may want to have some ice bags to put under your armpits or in between your legs to help pull down your core temperature when things get too hot outside.
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