Preventing tennis elbow
by The Volkl Tennis Canada Team ⋅ March 16, 2020
Injury in the sport
Regardless of the beauty of the sport and its popularity throughout the world, tennis players of all levels are prone to injuries. One of the most common being a tendinitis in the outer elbow joint, hence its label “tennis elbow”.
For those of you that have not felt its negative effects, this injury occurs when the forearm muscle – the extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB) – is damaged. (See photo).
Symptoms vary from an elbow pain that gradually gets worse and extends down to other areas such as the forearm, wrist, and hand. It also leads to a weak grip, increased pain when squeezing or lifting objects.
Why tennis causes tennis elbow?
Before stating why tennis causes tennis elbow, it is paramount to understand the biology behind this injury and how it relates to the sport.
Constant/repetitive stress gradually deteriorates the ECRB muscle (forearm), causing small tears in the muscle’s tendon at the junction of the elbow. These tears lead to inflammation and pain.
The “constant/repetitive stress” is usually caused by continuous twists and shocks in the wrist. As you may imagine, hitting an enormous amount of tennis shots is therefore directly related to the root causes of the tennis elbow injury.
Prevent the injury with good gear
As much as taking time off from the sport that causes the injury usually is enough to recover from it, it is good practice to get some understanding behind how tennis gear affects your arm.
Let’s cover how racquets and strings can help reduce the chance of getting that nasty injury.
What to look for in racquets to prevent tennis elbow
The most important aspect of a racquet to look for as a preventative measure against tennis elbow is its ability to dampen vibrations caused by the impact with a tennis ball. One must look at the racquet composites, its built and its stiffness rating (commonly referred to the RA of a racquet).
Nowadays, most of the racquets are built with variations of carbon layers. At the early stages of its lifetime, this composite is excellent for shock-absorption. However, it is important to monitor its decay as it loses its ability to absorb shocks with usage, thus transferring all those excessive vibrations through the arm. Depending on your level of play and the frequency at which you practice the sport, racquets usually last between 2 and 6 years.
The stiffness of a racquet also greatly impacts its comfort. They usually range from 55 RA to 75 RA. Therefore, for the comfort of your arm, 55 being the softest and 75 being the stiffest. Bear in mind that many other factors are influenced by the RA rating of a racquet. However, they go beyond the scope of this article.
We suggest you consult with a professional so he or she can assess the wear of your racquet, advise you on when it is time to change and which stiffness rating would be adequate for you in relation to your age, health, level, and frequency of play.
Some tennis brands also specialize in producing arm friendly racquets by incorporating additional technologies. Click here to see what technologies Volkl uses to help their customers.
Strings and how they affect tennis elbow
Since strings come in direct contact with the ball, they have a tremendous impact on the body’s health. They transfer vibrations through the racquet all the way to the arm.
Like racquets, some strings are softer, and others are stiffer. As a good rule of thumb, multifilament and natural strings are known to be softer on the arm than polyester ones. Therefore, if someone finds himself experiencing arm problems, changing for a multifilament string is a valuable option to consider.
However, since polyesters strings have become more popular, brands have made the effort to produce much softer versions such as the V-Star and the V-Square.
In addition to the type of string chosen, the tension at which racquets are strung also have an impact on how much vibration goes through the arm. Another rule of thumb is to lower the tension as much as possible without losing control of the ball.
Consult with a professional for advice regarding string choice and tension. You can do so by sending an email to [email protected], or simply using their chat box.