Tennis elbow, or to give it it’s proper name lateral epicondylitis, is an inflammation of the tendons that attach your forearm muscles to your lateral epicondyle, the bony knob on the outside of your arm an inch or two from the bigger knob that you generally think of as your elbow.
In tennis elbow, an acute strain, or, more commonly, repeated, smaller strains cause microscopic tears in the tendons where they attach to the bone.
The main symptom is pain, which occurs on contact with the ball, especially on one-handed backhands, and often when performing ordinary motions like opening a jar or lifting a heavy bag. Almost half of recreational tennis players suffer from tennis elbow at some point in their lives.
But you know what they say, prevention is better than a cure, so with that in mind, take a look at practical steps you can take in preventing tennis elbow from ruining your game, and week!
- Modifying Your Strokes to Prevent Platform Tennis Elbow
- Choosing Grips and Overgrips to Prevent Platform Tennis Elbow
- How To Make A Tennis Elbow Splint
- Off-Court Activities That Cause Tennis Elbow
Modifying Your Strokes to Prevent Platform Tennis Elbow
Here, I will discuss how to modify your strokes to help prevent tennis elbow or keep playing while giving your elbow a rest.
Using your legs
Although your arm is the single most important part of your body in hitting the ball, the more the rest of your body contributes, the better you’re likely to hit and the less strain your arm will feel.
Particularly important is getting the big muscles of your legs to push forward on all driving strokes and upward on all topspin strokes. Just be careful that you do not overuse another part of your body and cause another injury. The best way to combat this is to make sure you have decent footwear, so you don’t turn your ankle.
Meeting the ball in front
If you meet the ball well in front of yourself, you’re much more likely to have your weight going forward as you hit, and the contribution from your body weight and leg thrust will reduce the demand on your arm. You will also be much less likely to lead with your elbow on your one-handed backhand.
Avoiding leading with your elbow
Most tennis players know you shouldn’t “lead with your elbow” on one-handed backhands, but many aren’t entirely sure what that means. To get a clear picture of it, hold an imaginary paddle, bend your arm sharply at the elbow, point your elbow at an imaginary net, and then straighten your arm so that your fist points at the net. You’ve just simulated an extreme version of leading with the elbow.
While few players would lead with the elbow that obviously, many hit one-handed backhands with enough of that forward chopping motion to damage their elbows.
To avoid leading with your elbow, make sure to generate your one-handed backhand swing with your shoulder and upper arm, not your elbow and forearm, and get a strong forward push from your legs to take some of the workload off your arm altogether.
Seeing the ball well and keeping your head still
Meeting the ball on your paddle’s centerline greatly reduces the strain on your elbow, because it prevents torsion. Along the centerline, there’s also a point of least shock, called the center of percussion.
No one can meet the ball perfectly every time, but you might be able to greatly improve your contact with the ball by trying to see the ball get hit and by keeping your eyes on the point of contact for half a second after impact.
In addition to enhancing your hand-eye coordination, this will keep your head still, which will help keep you from pulling away from the point of contact.
Reducing topspin if you’re not meeting the ball near the centerline
If keeping your head still doesn’t get the ball onto your racquet’s centerline often enough to satisfy your arm, try hitting less topspin. A flatter swing makes hitting your centerline easier, as you’re swinging more into the ball’s path instead of cutting across it.
Without the benefit of topspin, you won’t be able to hit as hard at a given height, but slowing your swing down and hitting less hard will also benefit your arm.
If you love being out on the tennis court more than your right arm does, give your right arm a rest by playing lefty.
At first, you’ll probably find some strokes, especially serves, quite awkward, but you might eventually become competent enough to give a decent match to a friend you would play righty, but beat fairly easily.
Your friend will probably enjoy finally taking a set off you, and because you won’t be able to put shots away as you would righty, you’ll end up running like crazy and getting a lot more exercise. Playing lefty is also a great solution if you want to rally with someone who would be completely frustrated trying to handle your righty pace and spin.
Trying to hit softer balls righty to accommodate a weaker player can strain your right arm while you’re getting used to it, because you have to learn to restrain high-powered kinetic chains that have become natural from being used thousands of times. The feeling of those kinetic chains doesn’t automatically transfer to your lefty swings, so you’ll naturally hit an easier ball, and you and a weaker opponent will have more fun.
Slowing your swing
Even if you can hit your centerline pretty consistently with a topspin stroke, a slower swing will benefit your arm. The forces that hurt your arm are proportional to the force of the collision between ball and paddle, which is in turn proportional to the opposing velocities of the racquet and ball. You have control over the velocity of your paddle.
You can’t completely control the velocity of the incoming ball–unless you choose opponents who don’t hit as hard–but you can keep a hard hitter from using his full power by a variety of tactics, such as sending him balls that are above or below his wheelhouse.
Using the physically (vs. mentally) optimal grip
Make sure to use the grip that’s most comfortable for each of your strokes.
A Continental grip, for example, is painfully unsuitable to hitting forehand topspin groundstrokes, as is a full Western grip for hitting backspins (slices).
At the net, a Continental grip makes much more sense, because it allows you to hit forehand and backhand volleys without switching grips, but on the forehand volley, it can be quite uncomfortable for some players.
If you can get used to Continental volleys, you’ll be able to react faster at the net without thinking about your grip, but for some players, switching between the Eastern forehand and Eastern backhand grips is so much more comfortable physically, it’s worth the added mental challenge of having to switch.
Choosing Grips and Overgrips to Prevent Platform Tennis Elbow
Here, I’ll consider the smaller pieces – grips and overgrips -that may make a big difference in helping you avoid platform tennis elbow.
While a grip that’s too large or small will tend to force you to grab the handle too tightly and thereby increase strain on your forearm, a grip that’s too small is likely to be worse, because it’s more likely to try to turn in your hand.
A grip that’s less than 1/8″ too small is easily remedied, though, because it can be fattened adequately by adding an overwrap, whereas an overly large grip would have to be shaved down at a pro shop. Adding multiple overwraps to make up for more than a 1/8″ deficit isn’t advisable, because it rounds off the bevel edges too much.
Overgrip to prevent slipping
Even with the right grip size, you’re likely to end up gripping your racquet too tightly if the handle becomes slippery. A good overgrip can keep your grip dry and prevent slipping, which is safer both for your arm and for your paddle, as racquets are frequently broken by slipping out of the player’s hand and slamming into the court or fence. We all like a new paddle, but it can get quite expensive, whereas a good grip is a lot cheaper!
How To Make A Tennis Elbow Splint
If you think that the store tennis elbow splint to avoid tennis injuries of elbow is uncomfortable and overpriced, then why not learn how to make a tennis elbow splint to avoid tennis injuries to your elbow.
There are many advantages in making a tennis elbow splint.
- First, it is cheap and easy to make.
- Second, you can customize it to your specification, thus brings you maximal comfort.
- Lastly, it provides you with the maximum protection possible. While it may seem difficult to make it, but with this step by step guide, you can make a tennis elbow splint in a few minutes.
To make a tennis elbow splint to avoid tennis injuries of elbow, you will need:
- Sewing machine or hand sewing capability
- A small soft air pouch or equivalent (approximately 2 inches in width and length)
- Two 2 inches spandex
- Gather the material. You can buy most of these materials at your local tailor or fabric store. If you cannot find such a store, you should also look into arts and crafts stores, such as Michael’s or AC Moore. You will also find them in some Wal-Mart Super Center’s as well.
- Sew your spandex together. Make sure that you leave an approximately 2 inch hole on one side of the spandex.
- Adjust the length of the spandex to length of the back of your forearm. You want to keep the pressure firm, but not too tight that it will choke the blood supply.
- After you are sure of the tightness, then insert the air pouch. The goal of the pouch is to put pressure on a specific area. Of course you can substitute other products as well, as long as you keep the pressure on that area of pain.
- Finish it up by sewing the spandex near the air pouch back together.
There you have it, your home made solution to platform tennis injuries of the elbow. This tennis elbow splint is not only comfortable, but also customizable and inexpensive.
Off-Court Activities That Cause Tennis Elbow
Here, I will discuss how to avoid or change off-court activities that are likely to contribute to or cause tennis elbow.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety cites tennis elbow as a common occupational injury, resulting most commonly from the repetitive motions that many jobs entail.
Particularly harmful are motions performed with the arms extended that involve gripping tightly while bending the arm at the elbow or that involve rotating the forearm while bending the wrist. More violent motions, such as throwing with a jerky motion or hitting objects with the hand are also likely, not surprisingly, to stress the elbow.
They recommend reorganizing workplaces to reduce repetitive motions and make them more comfortable, such as by using machines to perform more of them, giving each worker a wider variety of tasks, and modifying tools and equipment to require less force to use. Workers can also relieve their elbows by using smoother motions, avoiding bending their wrists, changing positions periodically, and resting more often.
Construction and mechanical work
Tasks that involve a lot of twisting motions, gripping a power tool that shakes or vibrates powerfully, or sudden impacts such as hammering are likely to increase your risk of tennis elbow.
Typing can be tough on your elbow, especially if you don’t have the keyboard at the right height. When you type, your forearms should be nearly horizontal. A natural keyboard, which allows you to keep your wrists in a neutral position as you type, can help quite a lot.
You might also reduce your typing by using dictation software that converts your spoken words into type. You’ll have to go through the text and make corrections, but your number of keystrokes will be greatly reduced.
Many people use a computer mouse for hours every day. Try mousing with your left hand.
Be aware of how you’re sleeping. Many people put their arms in strained positions for hours during sleep, especially when they turn onto their sides. Some use one hand to help keep their legs separated slightly while lying on their sides, in which case a leg pillow might help.