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Tennis Shoulder

Since playing tennis puts so much pressure on the shoulder muscles, is there a way to help prevent injuries like rotator cuff tears?

Determining the popularity of tennis is more difficult than might be expected. There are lots of lists, but all seem to be based on different criteria. When it comes to statistical rankings, worldwide, there is a pretty fair consensus that the most popular sport, by far, is soccer. Based solely on fan and player preference for just the U.S., however, soccer sometimes makes it into the top ten list but rarely anywhere near the top. Tennis, on the other hand, may never come in at number one but it always makes the list. It also seems to be growing, both in amateur participation and interest in following superstars, like Roger Federer and the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus.

Estimates are that 60 million men and women play tennis around world, which puts it right up there with golf. Most sports carry the risk of injury. Some more so from physical contact, while others, like tennis and golf, tend to result in repetitive motion injuries, as well as overuse on particular joints or muscles. The tennis serve is especially problematic for the rotator cuff. Oddly enough, the better the player, the more chance of injury, because a properly-executed, forceful serve can create pressure on the rotator cuff of up to 120 percent of the player’s body weight. Do this over and over again, game after game, match after match and the possibility of developing a rotator cuff tear or impingement significantly increases.

What adds to the likelihood of injury is that being in good shape and playing consistently do not lessen the risk. The forward motion required in the tennis serve works the muscles in the front of the shoulder considerably more than those in the back. There are no compensating movement patterns in the sport that balance this out, which can, eventually, lead to injury.

Exercises to Strengthen the Rotator Cuff Muscles

If the extent of your tennis play is occasionally meeting a friend for some non-competitive volleying, there is probably no need for concern. However, if you spend a fair amount of time actually playing, especially in tournaments that require successive games the better you get and more you win, it would be prudent to be proactive in preventing shoulder injuries. Professional tennis players do this by strengthening their rotator cuff muscles with some simple exercises, and you can do the same. Some of the more common exercises include variations of:

  • Resistant bands – stand with arms held at a 90-degree angle, elbows close to the body, palms up. With band around wrists pull wrists apart, which will work the rotator cuff muscles.
  • Rowing – while holding a plastic tube or similar object, simulate rowing a boat.
  • Hand weights – if you serve with your right hand, lie on your left side, Place a rolled towel or something between right arm and side. Using a light weight, no more than 5 pounds, use right hand and arm to lift weight above side, keeping arm on towel. Hold for only a second and lower. Repeat, increasing repetitions, gradually.

If you do experience pain, weakness or difficulty in moving your shoulder, you may have injured your rotator cuff. It is important to make an appointment with your physician so that your shoulder can be evaluated and further damage prevented.

For over 30 years, Peter McCann, MD has specialized in the treatment of shoulder and elbow injuries and conditions. Highly regarded for providing personalized service to his patients, Dr. McCann is Director, Orthopedic Surgery and Orthopedic Strategic Initiatives at Lenox Health Greenwich Village, a division of Northwell Health, and holds the academic title of Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell. If you have been diagnosed with a rotator cuff injury, are experiencing arm or shoulder pain or have questions about any of our services, we invite you to schedule a consultation using our convenient online form by clicking here.

Posted in: Rotator Cuff Repair


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