Insight from a Physical Therapist
In his years as a physical therapist, Mark Szaroleta has met plenty of tennis players. His impression?
“I’ll tell you this: tennis players love to be on the court,” he said with a laugh. “A lot of the players I work with are out playing 2-4 days per week. It seems like once people are into this sport, they are truly into it.”
A love for the sport is always great. But it can also lead to some injuries, and that’s where Szaroleta and his team come into play.
Szaroleta is part of Elite Physical Therapy, which has served the Delaware community since 1993. We spent some time with Szaroleta to talk through a handful of topics, including common tennis injuries and tips for recovery and injury prevention.
Common Tennis Injuries
Tendonitis, tendinopathy, sprains and strains, arthritis of the upper and lower extremities
“We see tennis players all the time. We’ve seen all sorts of injuries (recent and chronic). With many of the players we see, they play so often that they struggle with overuse injuries. We try to help them out so that they can manage that injury and stay on the court.
Specifically we commonly work with diagnoses like arthritis and tendonitis. We’ll frequently see rotator cuff injuries, and of course the classic tennis elbow. It’s really a mix, but a lot of times it results from what I had mentioned before: overuse.”
Everything is Connected
Causes of an injury may not be obvious
Strengthening other parts of your body can make an impact you might not realize
“It’s easy to make assumptions about injuries, but the causes of injuries aren’t always as obvious as people think. For example, you might think the issue is in your elbow, but it’s actually something up the chain that is driving the injury. That injury could come from a weak rotator cuff, or cervical involvement stemming from something postural. It’s important to try to really figure that out, and approach the injury that way.
A good example is plantar fasciitis. Someone may come in and anticipate their foot to be worked on. In reality, they may have weakened hips, tight hamstrings, and lower back involvement that’s leading to the foot pain. Or another example is, someone’s forearm is overworked because of a weakness in the shoulder. Maybe the shoulder has become weakened and therefore the wrist and elbow have taken the brunt of the swing.
Another common example is the relationship of core exercises with back pain.. A lot of people complain of back pain, and that can be from any number of things. But oftentimes, strengthening your core and your legs can take pressure off of your back, and that’s where the problem actually started.”
Aim for a good warm-up
Avoid repetitive motion
“I’ll always suggest a good warmup to avoid some of these common overuse injuries. People don’t always realize how important warming up your body actually is. I’d suggest a dynamic stretch in a safe, controlled environment before getting onto the court. Then a nice slow start to get the body moving and activate the muscles. If you can prime those muscles, that will help not to shock the system when you start really playing, and whenever you reach for that ball, or make a quick cut to get to the other side of the court.
When practicing, you can also look to avoid the same repetitive motion over and over again. You can’t always avoid it — I realize tennis players may need to work on their serve, and they need to sometimes do that in a repetitive way. But if you can mix it up within your practice as much as you can, that can help. Doing everything in moderation is the way to go. Another tip is to try utilizing the opposite side in some way. If you’re hitting a lot of forehands, make sure you work in some backhands.
Strength training is something that helps us stay healthy, too. It’s helpful to look into how you can incorporate some sort of strength plan into your routine.”
Recover Well & Find What Works for You
Listen to your body
“Recovery is really important, and a lot of times it’s overlooked. That can start with a cool-down period and static stretching. After that, sleep is when you do your recovery. Lack of sleep causes muscle aches and muscle pains. I’ve experienced that myself with young kids and being up late. A couple of nights without a solid rest, and you’re unable to perform your best.
We’re all different, and everyone has their own preference. What works for me, specifically, might not work for someone else. But in general, there are things we can do to stay healthy. Tennis players can stay on the court a bit more by being thoughtful with how they approach their bodies on the court.
Overall, listen to your body and get to know it. If you feel a little off, you may need some extra time to warm up. Everybody recovers differently, and that’s OK. If you need an extra day, you need to take that extra day.
Finally, stay hydrated! Your muscles are filled with water, and if you don’t have proper hydration, you’re even more susceptible to injury.”
This year, Elite Physical Therapy is generously sponsoring USTA Middle States, and working closely with the 2022 USTA MS Delaware District Championships.
You can learn more about Elite PT at elitept.com.