Tennis is a novelty sport in that it can be enjoyed by people of all ages. It’s not uncommon to see everyone from teeny tots to silver foxes hanging out on the courts. More and more people are learning to enjoy tennis for reasons ranging from its outdoor scenery to the fact that it can be a killer workout!
For those who are playing tennis regularly, foot injuries tend to make an appearance at one point or another. Older folks and those who are loyal to hitting the courts at full blast, alike, tend to suffer from tennis-related foot pain and injury most frequently. Here, we’ll take a look at some of the most common tennis foot injuries and discuss some ways to avoid them from knocking us out of the game.
THE NITTY GRITTY
Full disclosure: these foot injuries can be pretty gruesome on top of ruining a beloved activity! There are many points of concern and high pressure around the foot, including the outer and inner ankle. One aspect of tennis that makes it such a great cardio burn is the same that can lead to serious pain; players must react quickly to the ball’s direction and bounce, which forces a multitude of agility movements.
Adding to the strain, tennis players quickly push both forward and laterally throughout a match, meaning that the foot is called upon with varying pressure to propel the body in all directions—sometimes unpredictably. As a result of all the tension and impact, the feet become prone to a host of painful injuries.
Tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and neuroma are three of the most complex-sounding problems that no one wants to deal with when it comes to a foot injury. Tendonitis comes in a few unpleasant flavours, including Achilles’ and peroneal. The former includes inflammation around the Achilles tendon (located at the back of the foot just above the heel) and can be a result of repeated take-offs. Peroneal tendonitis often accompanies the infamous ankle sprain but can also be an injury all to itself. This latter type of tendonitis affects both muscles and tendons which run along the outside of the leg, down to the back of the ankle and the top of the midfoot. Pain often occurs at both of these sites.
Plantar fasciitis will vary in its pain site based on the arch-type of the injured player. Whether the injury presents in the heel or the arch, it is a reaction to an injured tissue ligament known medically as the plantar fascia. This ligament wraps along the underside of the foot and can cause some serious and lasting pain when damaged.
Morton’s Neuroma is the most common type of neuroma to strike tennis players. As its name slightly suggests, this is a nerve issue that takes place in between the toes; a nerve may become inflamed, “pinched,” or may develop a non-cancerous growth. Sensations associated with this foot injury can present between the toes, as well as in the ball of the foot.
There are also many issues surrounding the big toe area, toenails generally, stress fractures, heel bruising, and ankle rolling. Podiatrists are certain to stay busy as tennis continues to grow in popularity unless players begin paying attention to prevention.
There are ways to prevent all of the aforementioned foot pain on a tennis player’s menu. First, and arguably most important, is choosing adequate footwear. Players should keep their arch type in mind, choose socks that are thick enough to cushion and avoid blisters while still fitting comfortably in the chosen footwear, and be sure to groom toenails regularly. If you’re unsure of where to start with footwear, visit a specific sporting shoe store; most reputable locations have footwear specialists in-house who can help ensure proper fit.
Another massive help is investing in customized orthotics. These inserts are made specifically for your feet and can provide remarkable protection against injury. For anyone who frequents the courts, this is an optional accessory which should likely be treated as a necessity. The pain and cost of tennis foot injuries is far greater by comparison, especially as many require surgeries, injections, and plenty of resting time to heal.
Next, always be sure to warm up before playing. Stretching and jogging are excellent preventative measures to pregame with. Regardless of whether you play a lot or only occasionally, don’t skip this step! Across all athletic disciplines, stretching and warming up with some light cardio has been shown to dramatically decrease the risk of injury.
It’s incredibly easy to get sucked into a sport or physical activity when we fall in love with it. Some people crave the competition, others the feeling of accomplishment, and others still, the pointed repetition. It can actually become quite hard to step back or take a break, but it’s a paramount decision to do so. In the sport of tennis, letting the body rest is even more crucial than some other sports, as there is intense physical exertion on the same parts of the body over and over. Of course, the feet are the biggest example.
Cross-training is wildly important for all athletes, including tennis players. Exercising across different disciplines allows those over-stressed parts of the body to take a break, while simultaneously keeping active. As a major added bonus, working different large muscle groups and small stability muscles makes for better and safer play upon returning to the courts.
Another simple but overlooked tip is to re-check your running technique. Tennis involves a lot of explosive running, which can lead to many of the aforementioned injuries, especially plantar fasciitis. Ensuring that our running form is maximized for the sport may seem rudimentary, but it’s well worth taking some time with. There are many articles and videos online to reference when it comes to running form, some of which are specific to tennis. You may even want to practice in front of a mirror or with the feedback of a friend.
Finally, take a few minutes to scan the court before each match. Since many courts are located outside, debris such as leaves, twigs, sticks, and rocks can make their way onto playing areas and cause major havoc for items so small. Checking and sweeping the terrain for safety might not be high on everyone’s list—until they’re facing a painful tennis foot injury and a long road to recovery.