Anyone for Tennis?

Lisa Leonard

If the action at Eastbourne and Wimbledon has inspired you to dust off your tennis racquet for a few games; you will enjoy them all the more if you are mindful of your elbows and wrists, says orthopaedic surgeon Lisa Leonard.

There’s nothing like a bit of sunshine and some tennis on the telly to make you want to get out there and hit a few balls. Tennis is a great way to have fun and keep fit but it can aggravate certain parts of the body.

Classic tennis elbow

Given its name, you would assume that tennis elbow is caused by playing tennis, but actually the vast majority of people with the problem have probably never picked up a racquet. However, if you do have it, playing tennis can make the symptoms worse.

Tennis elbow is caused by multiple small injuries to the muscles on the outside of the arm where they attach to bone, just above the elbow. When we are young these injuries are repaired by the body without us noticing, but as we get older this healing process slows down and the damage outstrips the repair mechanism.

Patients with this condition suffer with pain on the outer aspect of their elbow. The pain often runs down the forearm or even up towards the shoulder. Activities with the elbow out straight and the wrist cocked up backwards make the pain worse.

Fortunately, for most people, the symptoms gradually settle down over time, although this usually takes several months at least. Modifying your activities, taking painkillers, doing some stretching exercises and wearing a splint just below the elbow may help. Very occasionally a cortisone (steroid) injection into the sore spot may help relieve severe symptoms, but the effect is only temporary.

Painful wrists

Swinging a tennis racquet can often cause wrist injuries. Mostly these are simple muscular strains which soon get better with rest, ice compresses, painkillers and appropriate supports.

But if your symptoms persist and you find that everyday activities are difficult to perform, then you should consider seeing a surgeon specialising in wrist injuries. The wrist is our body’s most complex joint, made up of eight separate small bones and injuries to it have only started to be understood in the last two or three decades. While we still have a lot more to learn, we know that there are a couple of easily missed injuries that can upset the wrist’s finely balanced mechanics and lead to arthritis.

Start slowly to avoid injury

Don’t let the thought of hurting yourself keep you off the courts this summer, though. Tennis is good fun and a great form of exercise that most people can enjoy. The best way to avoid injury is to start slowly with a gentle knock around and build up gradually. If you do find that your elbow or wrist starts to hurt, then slow down or take a break. If your symptoms don’t go away after a couple of weeks following an injury, particularly in the wrist, go and see your GP.