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Tennis elbow is an overuse injury caused by microscopic tears of the tendons that are connected to forearm muscles in the elbow joint. This type of injury develops due to repetitive movements, including repeatedly swinging a tennis racquet. Performing stretches, strength training, and forearm exercises can help reduce the risk of tennis elbow. Taking frequent breaks while playing sports such as tennis, or icing a sore joint, can also help ease minor inflammation before the tissue damage progresses to tennis elbow. In addition, it is important to purchase the right type of racquet to prevent tennis elbow from developing.
The proper racquet can help ensure that the impact or amount of force the forearm and elbow encounter when the ball hits the racquet remains low enough to minimize tissue damage. The force that is transferred to the forearm and elbow depends on several different properties of the racquet and its strings, such as racquet weight, balance, and stiffness (flexibility), as well as string gauge, resiliency, and tension.
Important Features to Look For
A lightweight racquet with a flexible frame helps improve forearm safety by reducing turning force (torsion) and the shock of the ball's impact. Excess force and shock are two of the main factors that are linked to tennis elbow. Although a racquet that is light and has a flexible frame absorbs more force from the ball's impact, it also causes a stronger vibration with a greater amplitude than a heavy, stiff racquet. For most players, racquet vibration is uncomfortable, but this issue has not been associated with an increased risk of tennis elbow. However, professional players typically prefer minimal vibration when possible. To address this issue, a racquet of moderate weight (e.g., 10 to 11 ounces) with a close to even balance is ideal for most players.
Balance refers to whether the racquet is head light, head heavy, or even balanced. For a head light racquet, the majority of the racquet's weight is toward the handle. A head heavy racquet has more weight toward the head or top of the racquet, while the weight of an even balanced racquet feels about the same throughout the length of the racquet. The properties of the racquet strings also influence body dynamics.
Racquet strings that are thin, loose, and resilient are easier on the forearm, as they stretch further, allowing the strings to absorb more force from the ball’s impact. This reduces the shock that tendons and muscles are exposed to while playing tennis. Looser strings make it a little harder to control the direction of the ball upon impact, but control can be improved through practice with a skilled trainer. Stiff strings are harder on forearm muscles because they absorb less force. Additional features to pay attention to include grip size and swing weight, which are features that can be discussed with a sales representative, trainer, or Physical Therapist. Before purchasing a racquet, it is always important to perform an equipment check.
Perform an Equipment Check
If you frequently participate in sports that involve swinging movements (e.g., tennis, golf, baseball), a Physical Therapist at Purposed Physical Therapy may encourage you to check your equipment for the proper type and fit. Flexible racquets that have medium to moderate string tension help reduce the amount of stress or force that is placed on the forearm. This means the forearm muscles work less hard and are subject to minimal tissue damage.
A Physical Therapist can also assess whether the racquet you are using may be too big, as an oversized racquet can be heavy and hard to swing. These are factors that can increase the risk of experiencing tennis elbow. Switching to a smaller racquet can lower the incidence of recurring symptoms, and our highly skilled Physical Therapists can evaluate your swing technique to improve postural problems that may contribute to overuse injuries.
Call Purposed Physical Therapy in Greenville for more information about purchasing the optimal tennis racquet.
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