With the US Open now in full “swing,” tennis buffs, are wondering how top-seeds Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic will fare in Forest Hills. Williams is recovering from a sore shoulder while Djokovic’s left wrist is causing problems. While shoulder, wrist, knee and other injuries—including the infamous tennis elbow—hog attention, it turns out that lower back pain is very common among tennis players according to the International Tennis Federation.1
According to Dr. Hecht, the top three injuries seen on and off the tennis court are:
Simple muscle strain is due to overuse or sudden exertion that leads to an injury or “pull” of the muscle. “It’s something we’ve all experienced at one time or another,” says Dr. Hecht, “And it usually means that you didn’t warm up the muscles, stretch or get loose before you started exercising or exerting yourself,” he adds.
Disc herniation occurs when a lumbar disc ruptures. The discs sit in-between the vertebrae and serve as shock-absorbing cushions. “When a disc herniates or tears, the shock-absorbing cushion extrudes through the outer covering. “It’s kind of like jelly coming out of a donut,” says Dr. Hecht. This herniation can happen suddenly or the tear can happen slowly over time. The tear leads to pressure or pinching of a nerve and that’s what causes back pain, pain in the buttock or down the leg. This type of injury can cause numbness, tingling and even some muscle weakness says Dr. Hecht.
Spondylolysis, a stress fracture of one of the bones that make up the spinal column, “is most commonly seen in young players and athletes,” says Dr. Hecht. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons,2 this injury is caused by repetitive hyperextension of the back, during a tennis serve, for example, but also in weight lifting or gymnastics. This hyperextension can cause disc compression, stress on the small joints of the spine and the muscles, ligament and tendons surrounding the spine.
Maintaining your overall health is the first step. So is preparing yourself to be active. Before you exercise or engage in any physical activity, be sure to stretch and limber up your muscles. And while you’re exercising, remember to focus on spine and core strength. Core strength is essential to maximizing good spine health and minimizing episodes of back pain, stresses Dr. Hecht.
And if an injury occurs, don’t take to your bed. “We don’t recommend that anymore,” says Dr. Hecht. “We encourage you to get out of bed and get going without overdoing.”
However, if your back pain lasts more than 6-8 weeks, or if you have lower back pain along with pain down the leg, numbness or tingling, or you have trouble going to the bathroom, see your physician right away.