If you are like most regular tennis players, you hate to be prevented from playing for any reason, but an ankle or foot injury can literally stop you in your tracks. What can you do to prevent and treat foot and ankle injuries so that you can continue playing with minimal interruption?
In this article, we will describe some of the most common injuries tennis players experience and provide smart advice to help you prevent and treat them. Read on to learn more.
Prevention is the best plan
Be sure to see your doctor regularly and heed his or her advice. If you are a regular tennis player, ask for a referral to a podiatrist for a professional evaluation and recommendations regarding footwear, orthotics and foot care.
Remember that tennis is like any other sport. If you jump right in without warming up, you are sure to hurt yourself. Stay in shape for tennis with regular, daily light-to-moderate exercises. Always perform warm-up stretches before commencing play. Some good choices include:
- Hurdler’s stretch
- Wall push-up
- Hamstring stretch
Going for a brisk walk or bike ride before playing tennis can help improve your circulation and warm-up your muscles overall.
Take good care of your feet by keeping your nails properly trimmed and dealing with any intrusive hard skin and calluses. Wear proper, clean socks that provide good cushioning and help wick moisture away from your feet.
How to prevent and/or treat typical tennis injuries
When you play tennis, you open yourself up to a wide range of injuries from head to toe, but it’s worth the risk if you have a passion for the game.
In this section, we will focus on typical leg, ankle and foot injuries and provide some sound advice on prevention and treatment.
- Achilles tendinitis: Your Achilles tendon attaches the back of the heel to the calf muscle. When it works properly, you are able to propel yourself forward effectively. If this tendon becomes irritated and inflamed, this is no longer possible. Overuse, low arches and/or improper footwear can cause inflammation of the Achilles tendon. When this happens, turn to rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) to treat the pain. See your podiatrist for recommendations on orthotics that may help you prevent the problem in the future.
- Calcaneal apophysitis: This is a problem that does not plague adults but can be a problem for children whose heel bones have not yet fused. When the calcaneal apophysis (a growth center located in the heel bone) becomes inflamed, it can cause a great deal of pain. Proper warm-up and proper footwear/orthotics can prevent this problem. RICE can treat it.
- Peroneal tendinitis: The tendons muscles on the outside of the leg connect with the midfoot via two tendons behind the ankle. These tendons help prevent spraining your ankle, but if you do sprain your ankle severely they will be damaged. This will cause pain either on the outside of the foot below the ankle. This pain can be caused by injury or overuse, and it is more common in people who have very high arches. RICE coupled with an over the counter anti-inflammatory drug can help. Proper footwear and a reasonable training schedule will help prevent this injury.
- Sprained ankle: If you do sprain your ankle, be sure to rest it completely for 3-5 days. Apply ice and compression, elevate the foot to improve circulation, and use an ankle support. If your symptoms do not improve quickly and dramatically, see your doctor/podiatrist for proper diagnosis and treatment.
- Sesamoiditis: There are two little bones surrounded by flexor tendons located at the base of the big toe. These bones help keep the big toe stable during flexion. Excessive stress (as in sudden stops and starts, pivots and overuse) will cause these bones to become inflamed. RICE, anti-inflammatory drugs and use of orthotics (especially a toe crest and/or ball of foot pad) will help ease the symptoms.
- Morton’s neuroma: This condition is caused by the same sorts of activities that cause sesamoiditis. The neuroma is a nerve located between the great and second toe. Trauma and pressure can cause burning, sharp pain, tingling and numbness in this nerve. If caught early, treatment for sesamoiditis can provide relief for this condition. If neglected, you may need to see you podiatrist for injections of cortisone to ease the pain.
- Posterior tibial (PT) tendinitis: The PT tendon runs from the mid-foot, over the ankle to the back of the leg. It is actually connected with almost every bone located in the sole of the foot. This tendon stabilizes your foot when you push off. If you are flat-footed, this tendon is constantly under stress and injury is likely. RICE, anti-inflammatories and proper footwear/orthotics will help ease the pain and facilitate healing.
- Platar fasciitis: This common malady manifests as pain in the arch. The plantar fascia is a tough tendon that runs the entire length of the foot. If it becomes inflamed from trauma, overuse or improper footwear, it can cause a great deal of pain and disability. RICE, anti-inflammatories and a complete revision of footwear are recommended to ease pain and prevent future problems.
- Tennis toe: When you get a blood blister under your toenail, it is called tennis toe. This can be caused by repeated pressure of poorly fitted shoes or by injury (e.g. having your toe stomped on by your partner). You should see your doctor or podiatrist to have the toenail lanced and the excess blood drained off. Your toe will feel better right away. Be sure to follow doctor’s orders and keep your toenail clean and dry so that it can grow out without risk of infection.
- Shin splint & stress fracture: When you play on a hard court, the impact and the stress can cause tiny fractures to the shin bones and micro-tears in the muscles and tendons on the front and back of the lower legs. Treat with RICE and anti-inflammatories. If your symptoms do not improve quickly and significantly, see your doctor or podiatrist. Wear proper footwear with thick cushioning and good support to prevent impact injury when playing on hard surfaces.
- Blisters, calluses & corns: These injuries can and should be avoided by practicing proper foot care, wearing clean, absorbent socks and well-fitted shoes. All of these problems are caused by friction. Be sure your shoes fit properly and provide good support. Always wear clean, absorbent socks. Keep your feet clean, your toenails trimmed and any rough spots buffed away with a pumice stone or use some other suitable treatments for corns.
If you do get a blister, try simply treating it with anti-biotic ointment and covering it with a band-aid overnight. If this does not resolve the problem, lance it with a sterilised needle, re-apply anti-biotic ointment and cover it again. Clean and treat daily until there is no sign of the blister. This should only take a couple of days.
RICE, anti-inflammatories & properly fitted shoes & orthotics are key
As you read through this article, you are sure to have noticed a recurring theme. Tennis is not only about an amazing tennis racket, best tennis balls or a great game strategy but also footcare and footwear. Properly fitted shoes and good orthotics are of the utmost importance in preventing foot injuries of all kinds.
- Invest in proper footwear
- Take care of your feet and nails
- Stretch properly before playing
- Don’t overdo
You are unlikely to experience foot and ankle injuries while playing tennis.
If you do get injured, RICE + anti-inflammatories will ease almost any pain and facilitate healing of almost any injury. If you do not experience rapid improvement, seek help from your doctor or podiatrist.