Tennis is a sport that can be enjoyed by individuals of all ages and provides optimal physical activity and cardiovascular exercise. Although it can be leisurely, it does require being light on the feet with quick, starting, stopping, turning, and twisting movements for those new to playing tennis. If back pain is present, playing can be difficult. One study showed almost 40% of tennis players missed one or more tournaments because of low back pain/problems. A 2016 study found that tennis players with low back pain have difficulty moving their muscles with ease.
Know and Understand the Risks
Playing tennis has its risks when it comes to back pain. What can bring on or worsen back pain are the repetitive motions, like swinging, serving, volleying, and the uneven force placed on the body. This force is the power and momentum that is used for certain swings like serving and forehands. What happens is it does not evenly distribute through the body, increasing the potential to cause strains and sprains. For example, the serving motion repeatedly puts a hyperextension force through the spine. The result is overuse injuries.
No one wants to injure their back for those new to tennis and those who have been playing for years. This is where off-court conditioning comes in and preventive measures. This includes:
- Work on endurance and stamina
- Strengthen the core muscles without aggravating the back
- Ease into playing
- Don’t play for too long when starting or multiple days in a row
- Gradually increase the frequency and intensity
- Focus on the fundamental skills rather than trying to blast the ball like the pros.
- Trying to smash the ball too soon can result in a rotator cuff injury.
Stay Aware of Your Body
Playing tennis can cause an individual to become distracted; however, it’s crucial to be mindful of the body and what’s going on.
- Pay attention to the heat.
- Proper rest between games
- Hydration to prevent muscle cramping
- Stretching before and after playing
- Warming up and cooling down
- Take a break and stretch out if pain symptoms present.
- Never play through the pain that could result in worsening or creating new injuries.
- Pay attention to proper form.
- Apply modifications to prevent and avoid worsened back pain. This could be serving more simply or hitting around a stroke that generates pain symptoms.
After a match, rehydrate the body and cool down. This could be a little walking around the court, if possible getting in a pool or water splash park, and let the musculoskeletal system recover. Do some spinal exercises afterward, like yoga poses. Applying anti-inflammatory creams or gels can help keep the muscles loose and promote circulation. Anti-inflammatory foods can help with pain and inflammation.
There are individuals with spinal conditions that should not play tennis. These include:
- Acute disc herniation
- Active bone injury/s – fractures and stress fractures
- Spinal instability – spondylolisthesis
- Post-spine surgery
- A spinal condition involving nerves and/or the spinal cord
Consult a doctor before adding tennis to a physical regimen. Tennis is an aerobic activity that has several benefits. It keeps the body physically active for mental and physical wellness. The hormones released can help mitigate musculoskeletal pain and negative emotions like depression and anxiety that can come from experiencing back pain.
Magnesium supports a healthy immune system. It helps maintain:
- Healthy bone structure
- Muscle function
- Insulin levels
- Facilitates the body with energy
- Acts as a calcium blocker
- Reduces cramping
- Aids muscle relaxation after exercise/physical activity
Magnesium is essential in several biochemical reactions; a slight deficiency can increase cardiovascular disease risk. Deficiency can also lead to an increased risk of insulin resistance. Magnesium-rich foods are also high fiber foods. Dietary fiber helps with:
- Helps control weight
- Reduces cholesterol
- Stabilizes blood sugar
Recommended sources of Magnesium include:
- Green vegetables – spinach, swiss chard, and turnip greens
- Nuts – almonds and cashews
Clinics in Sports Medicine. (April 1988) “Low back pain in the competitive tennis player.” https://europepmc.org/article/med/2968850
Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. (April 2016) “Trunk muscle activation, fatigue and low back pain in tennis players” https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1440244015000845
Jahnen-Dechent, Wilhelm, and Markus Ketteler. “Magnesium basics.” Clinical kidney journal vol. 5,Suppl 1 (2012): i3-i14. doi:10.1093/ndtplus/sfr163
Katz, David L et al. “Cocoa and chocolate in human health and disease.” Antioxidants & redox signaling vol. 15,10 (2011): 2779-811. doi:10.1089/ars.2010.3697
Wang, Jinsong, et al. “Dietary magnesium intake improves insulin resistance among non-diabetic individuals with metabolic syndrome participating in a dietary trial.” Nutrients vol. 5,10 3910-9. 27 Sep. 2013, doi:10.3390/nu5103910