After 77 years of waiting, a man born in Britain has finally won Wimbledon, our signature tennis tournament. The annual summer surge in Britons dusting off their tennis rackets has been inflated thanks to the Andy Murray effect. Kids who haven’t touched a racket in years have managed to persuade their parents (or vice versa) to give the sport another chance.

In the mid-to-late nineties I counted myself amongst the ranks of the July surgers, although it was the valiant defeats of Henman and Rusedski that inspired me. Having had no coaching since about 1992, I was usually left with a few aches and pains in my (dominant) right arm after going tennis mad for several weeks. These were usually concentrated in the back of the right forearm, especially near the elbow, commonly known as Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis). I hit a single-handed backhand, but not particularly well, and where possible I tried to run round onto the forehand. Returning a fast shot on the backhand was difficult, as I couldn’t stabilise the racket unless I caught the ball exactly on the sweet spot. When I didn’t, (easily fifty per cent of the time), the impact pushed my wrist backwards, and the ball would embarrassingly come to rest by my feet.

Extensor muscles of the wrist resulting in Tennis Elbow

Extensor muscles of the wrist resulting in Tennis Elbow

Research states that 40-50% of recreational tennis players suffer from Tennis Elbow. It should follow therefore that pros, who regularly play 5-6 hours per day and practice against people who hit the ball over 100 mph should permanently suffer from this debilitating condition. Why then have I never heard of any of the top pros having to miss time due to Tennis Elbow?

There are a number of reasons that explain this apparent paradox. Firstly, these pros are younger than most recreational tennis players. However, the things that set these pros apart is that they all have a sufficient foundation of conditioning in strength and coordination, which means that when they hit the backhand, they do so with the wrist in neutral, thereby avoiding injury. Tennis elbow therefore isn’t really about the elbow at all; it’s a whole body problem that merely manifests itself in the elbow.

Keep the wrist in the neutral position

Keep the wrist in the neutral position

Key areas of concern are good footwork, the ability to rotate one’s hips when hitting the backhand and strength/stability in the upper arms and shoulders. A good training/treatment programme should concentrate on mobility in the ankles, hips and mid-back; stability in the core and shoulders; and strength in the hips and shoulders. Weakness or lack of mobility in any of these areas causes the backhand to be hit in a weak position, (often early or late), with the wrist flexed.

Tennis elbow can be treated successfully, but why not stop it from cropping up in the first place! If this rings true for you, why not give us a call so that we can help you play sport at the level you desire and reduce your chance of injury or re-injury.

Written by Andrew Robson

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