Modern tennis can also be traced to the United Kingdom, where British army officer Walter C. Wingfield introduced a new, smaller court and simpler set of rules at an 1873 garden party on his Welsh estate. The new game was played outside on a grass court, which eventually made the sport accessible to everyone.
Tennis provides a total aerobic body workout, and regular play is a relatively safe and enjoyable way to stay fit. Children need only to be old enough to swing a racquet to play, and seniors need only to be mobile enough to get from one side of the court to the other.
It doesn't take a superior athlete to have fun playing tennis, but care must always be taken to avoid injuries to the muscles not exercised vigorously off the tennis court.
Similar racquet sports, such as racquetball, squash, badminton, and paddle tennis, also leave the foot and ankle susceptible to injury. Injuries common to tennis and other racquetball sports include ankle sprains, stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, and tennis toe, among others. If they're minor, some of these injuries are self-treatable. But if pain persists, a doctor of podiatric medicine, especially a sports medicine specialist, is well equipped to help you get back on the court as quickly as possible.
In modern times, maintenance-intensive grass courts have given way to harder, more durable courts. Clay courts, and new crushed stone "fast-dry" courts, which duplicate the softness of clay but require less upkeep, are becoming more popular because players can slide on the soft surface. Clay and fast-drying are undoubtedly safest to the foot and ankle.
Outdoor courts are often surfaced with concrete or asphalt, and indoor courts with carpet, none of which allow for sliding. It's becoming more popular to coat the harder outdoor courts with cushioning surface containing rubber granules. While this coating softens the court and slows down the game, it's no more forgiving to the feet than the concrete or asphalt beneath it.
Popularity of the different court surfaces varies geographically, based on rainfall, humidity, and the age of most of the players (older players tend to prefer the slower, gentler clay or fast-dry court). Regardless of court surface, proper shoes are crucial to injury prevention.
Shoes should be specifically designed for tennis. Unlike running shoes, proper tennis shoes "give" enough to allow for side-to-side sliding. Running shoes have too much traction and may cause injury to the foot and ankle. In addition, running shoes do not have padded toe boxes, which lead to toe injuries for tennis players.
Heels should be snug-fitting to prevent slipping from side-to-side, and both heel and toe areas should have adequate cushioning. The arch should provide both soft support, and the toe box should have adequate depth to prevent toenail injuries. Your podiatrist can recommend a shoe that is best for your foot.
Shop for tennis shoes in the afternoon, when feet swell slightly. Try on several pairs with tennis socks. Put on and lace both shoes and walk around for a minute or two. Make sure your ankles don't roll in the shoes.
If you have bunions or other special considerations, do not buy special shoes without consulting a podiatric physician. If you already wear prescription orthotic inserts, make sure that any potential new shoe feels comfortable with it in place.
It's a good idea to have your feet and ankles evaluated by a professional foot care specialist before taking to the court. Your podiatrist can check for excessive pronation or supination (turning inward or outward of the ankles), and if necessary prescribe a custom orthotic device for insertion in the shoe to correct the imbalance.
Because of the stress on calf and hamstring muscles, thorough stretching before a match can prevent common injuries to the leg. Stretching out after a match alleviates stiff muscles.
Basic stretches such as the hurdler's stretch, the wall push-up, and standing hamstring stretch will loosen up the muscles enough to prevent pulls and other injuries. Your podiatric physician will explain how to do these exercises.
Your podiatric physician may advise you as to proper nail care and warning signs of nail problems. Feet should always be kept clean and dry. Socks should always be worn- tennis socks made of either acrylic or a blend of acrylic and natural fibers are preferable.
Injuries on the tennis court range from simple to serious. Some are self-treatable, while others will require professional consultation with a physician. The most common injuries in racquet sports include:
Ankle Sprains: Ankle sprains are the most common of all tennis injuries. They usually occur when the foot turns inward, causing swelling and pain on the outside of the ankle. To self-treat a mild ankle sprain, get weight off the ankle, apply ice to reduce swelling, wrap the ankle in a compression bandage and elevate the ankle. If the sprain does not improve within 3-5 days, consult a podiatric physician.
Corns, Calluses, and Blisters: Such friction injuries are readily self-treatable, yet care should be taken to ensure that self-treatment does not aggravate the problem. While treating corns and calluses, do not try to trim with sharp objects. Instead, buff problem with a pumice stone after bathing. For blisters, pierce the side with a sterilized needle and drain, then apply an antibiotic cream. Do not remove the roof of the blister. Application of a frictionless pad provides relief from blisters.
Plantar Fasciitis: Stress on the bottom of the foot sometimes causes arch pain. The plantar fascia, a supportive, fibrous band of tissue running the length of the foot, becomes inflamed and painful. If arch pain persists, consider investing in better shoes, an over-the-counter support, or see a doctor of podiatric medicine for custom-made orthotic device to insert into the shoe.
Stress Fracture and Shin Splints: Sometimes the long metatarsal bones behind the toe fracture and swell under the stress, causing severe pain when walking. Shin splints, which are microtears of the anterior calf muscles, and achilles tendon pulls of the posterior calf muscles, are all treatable with rest, ice, and elevation. These injuries tend to occur on harder court surfaces and should be healed fully before resuming play. Persistent pain signals the need to visit to a podiatric physician for consultation.
Tennis Toe: A subungual hematoma, or tennis toe, occurs when blood accumulates under the nail. Tennis toe can usually be traced to improper shoes and should be drained by a podiatrist for quicker recovery. For slight build-up, cool compresses and ice will provide relief.
All racquet sports require quick acceleration, twisting, and pivoting, putting the whole body under stress. If you are more than 40 years old, see a general physician before beginning to play tennis or other racquet sports.
Even if you consider yourself healthy, ease into a regular schedule of playing time. Whenever you change courts, be sure to get a "feel" for the new surface before serving up a match. Even professional tennis players arrive at tournaments up to a week early to acclimate themselves to the court surface.
Above all, listen to your body. Persistent minor aches and pains are not normal and will become aggravated if ignored or neglected. Proper care of the entire body, especially the foot and ankle, will make tennis and other racquet sports a healthy part of life for people of all ages.
- Start easy and build up your playing time carefully.
- Don't forget to stretch regularly.
- Use tennis shoes to play tennis.
- Fit your shoes with the socks that you plan to wear.
Craig M. Kaufman, DPM
Connecticut Foot Care Centers
Sports Podiatrist in CT
Podiatrist in Newington, Kensington, and Middletown, CT
Visit our website, friend and like our page on Facebook, and follow our tweets on Twitter.