Each year, tennis courts across the country experience a surge in bookings as a result of the warmer weather and 'Wimbledon fever'. But whilst it's great that more people are inspired to pick up their racquets, they must also be wary of the injury risks the additional strain is placing on them.
Some insight shows that the rate of tennis injury in the general population is five injuries per 1,000 hours of participation, with lower limb injuries being the most common. Knee injuries are very common in tennis, and I see a steady flow of tennis players in clinic every summer, ranging from people who play just occasional friendly social doubles right up to elite professional tennis players.
Tennis is a tough sport - it involves constant impact, cutting and pivoting on a bent knee, which puts huge forces on the structures inside the knee joint. When you land on one leg with the knee bent, the forces between the back of the kneecap and the front of the knee can be up to seven-times body-weight, and when you pivot, the torsional forces and the strain on the ligaments can be massive.
The range of knee injuries specifically in tennis players can be wide: sometimes people tear the meniscal cartilage shock absorbers in their knee from twisting. If the knee twists too much then it's possible to tear the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). Others will suffer overuse injuries like patellar tendonitis.
The warning signs to watch out for are sudden sharp pains, catching sensations, giving way, locking or swelling. If a joint swells up then that's a cardinal sign that there's something wrong. The best way to see whether or not there might be an issue in the knee is to get a decent high-res (3-Tesler) MRI scan and an opinion from a recommended knee specialist.
However, the best way to avoid injury in the first place is to properly prepare your body and warm up. One of the best ways to avoid injuries is to ensure that you're as fit and strong as possible when you play. This means going to the gym at least twice a week and working on general strength and fitness. The best way to pick up an injury is to be a 'weekend warrior' and to do no exercise all week, be unfit and out of condition, and then play a hard game of tennis at the weekend.
Enjoy the tennis season this summer, but if you are unlucky enough to injure yourself whilst playing, the most important thing is to get a clear, specific diagnosis of what might be causing any pain. Just listen to your body and if you have a gut feeling that there might be something wrong, then get it checked out. This will enable you to know whether it's just something minor that'll probably simply settle with just time and rest, or whether it's something more significant that could get worse and lead to further damage if left untreated.