With nearly 20 million active participants, tennis is a centuries-old sport that’s growing in popularity in the United States, and not just among older adults. In fact, there’s been a significant increase in younger players in recent years. Tennis can be a fun, invigorating way to work back-supporting muscle groups. However, there’s also the possibility of unintentionally doing something that causes harm to the spine. Minimize this risk by taking steps to protect your spine while playing.
1. Stretch First
Muscle strain is often a contributing factor to back spasms. It’s usually caused by muscles that rapidly go from a passive to active state, as may be the case if it’s been a few days or weeks since you last played tennis. Make the transition easy for your spine-supporting muscles by stretching for about 10-15 minutes prior to grabbing your racket. Warm-up exercises may include:
- Hamstring stretches
- Mid-back warm-ups with a foam roller (may make it easier to rotate your body on shots)
- Hip openers
- Front lunges to warm up hip and groin muscles
- Lateral hip stretches with a fitness band to work your lower body
2. Stay Hydrated Before, During, and After Matches
Water helps with muscle movement, and it keeps the discs of the spine spongy enough to provide sufficient cushioning to absorb the movements required with tennis. Get into the habit of staying hydrated before, during, and after matches to reduce the odds of experiencing hack spasms or disc-related damage.
3. Play on Surfaces That Are Less Demanding on the Spine
Most public and private tennis courts in the United States are hard courts. If you are able to choose another surface, go with a synthetic clay court. You’ll get a little more give on clay courts, and the bounce may be higher and slower. However, this surface minimizes abrupt stops that can place extra stress on the spine and its discs. You’ll be sliding into your shots, which will also ease stress on your feet.
4. Choose the Right Shoes
Even if you’re a casual player, the right footwear can make a big difference in how all that running around the court affects your spine. The general recommendation is to opt for shoes that provide sufficient cushioning while also allowing for multi-directional movement. If you play on a clay or hard surface, look for tennis shoes with good cushioning and bounce-back to prevent vibrations from your feet striking the surface from radiating upward to your lower spine. If you play on grass, choose shoes with a good grip to prevent falls since surfaces like this tend to be slippery.
5. Consider Taking Lessons or Working with a Coach
Back-supporting muscles often become strained from overuse or overextension injuries. It’s more likely you’ll have injuries of this nature if you’re not paying attention to form and technique. Improper form could also affect your posture and throw off your spine’s natural alignment, which could eventually affect your spine’s discs and joints. If you’re new to the game, consider taking lessons or working with a coach to learn the finer points of form. When playing, minimize back strain by:
- Avoiding excessive or overly large backswings
- Adjusting your stroke to various conditions (e.g. bad bounce, windy conditions, late recognition)
- Avoiding unnecessary movements and motions with swings
- Using a slice serve instead of a kick serve to reduce the degree of your back arch
- Choosing a properly sized racket for your hands so you won’t be making swings that negatively affect the biomechanics of your spine
Another way to protect your spine when playing tennis is to get other types of exercise between matches or practice sessions. Strive for a balance of low-impact aerobic exercises that target the core muscle groups that provide support to your spine. If you have any persistent spine-related pain during a game or after playing, take a break and see your doctor or a Los Angeles spine surgeon.
From artificial disc replacement to spinal fusion, Los Angeles patients have a variety of minimally invasive options for surgery that can alleviate their chronic pain. Get in touch with The Spine Institute to find out the best plan of action. Call 310-828-7757 today.