Tennis elbow or tendonitis? Blame your racket

I may have a wee tennis problem… the more I play, the more I want to play. Tennis Anonymous is clearly in my future.Wilson Tennis Racket

Amusingly, it’s injury that has rescued me from full-blown addiction. While I’ve had knee and shoulder problems in the past, my newest bogeyman is arm tendonitis. Yet over the last year, I’ve made a surprising discovery: my tendonitis may be self-inflicted – and fixable.

I’d like to share my experiences, as I’ve met many players with similar problems. My arm tendonitis is strikingly similar to tennis elbow, and possibly even a precursor to it, so if you suffer from either, these tips may help.

Tip 1: Change your racket

When I started playing tennis, I picked up a bargain-basement, standard racket. What I didn’t know is that “standard” meant “designed for men”, which left me with a racket that was a) too heavy and b) too big to hold comfortably.

My husband was the first to figure it out, showing up one day with a new racket that fit me better, with a smaller grip of 4 1/8 inches and a lighter weight of 9.5 oz. (Extra husband points!) The new racket solved some immediate injuries, particularly a sore wrist, but created new problems along the way.

As it turns out, the grip was too small.

Too small means you have to squeeze harder, using more muscle strength to keep the racket from twisting. Santa appeared this Christmas (yup, husband again) with a new racket, grip size 4 3/8 inches; my arm got a lot better, and quickly at that.

Small difference, big result. The photos below illustrate the minor difference between my old and new rackets.

Too Small Racket Grip Size

Just right tennis grip sizeAnd even though my new racket is heavier at 10.8oz, I can now handle the weight comfortably.

Tip 2: Change your technique

The grip size problem boils down to squeezing too hard – and you can do that no matter the grip size. So I needed to change my technique as well, in particular to hold the racket more lightly and to stop “muscling” the ball, especially on the forehand.

We’ve all been there: you’re late to the ball, your feet aren’t moving, so you compensate through arm movement. You squeeze harder and force your arm muscles to really “hit” the ball, rather than using good foot placement, along with your hips and legs. Do this often enough, and arm injuries will be your constant companion.

Tennis pros have confirmed my hunch, mentioning how often they see club players sporting arm bands for tennis elbow or tendonitis. In their opinion, most of those cases could be solved by changing technique (i.e. less arm, more body).

I hope these tips are helpful, so you can nurture your own inner tennis addict.

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