A Grand Slam Concern: Tennis and Foot Injuries
By Martha Michael
Competing in a Grand Slam Championship tennis match such as Wimbledon doesn’t need to be your goal for you to fear getting sidelined with a foot injury. Whatever your pace and on any kind of surface, your feet need time off between matches. And even then, a routine of running, jumping and shuffling can take its toll. After all, the grass courts of the All England Club are the exception rather than the rule.
Many injuries suffered by athletes -- even us regular weekend athletes -- in such sports as tennis and basketball involve the feet. Some of the most common are:
- Ankle sprains
- Stress fractures
- Achilles heel
Symptoms often occur as a result of high-impact movement on hard surfaces. In those cases, it’s more important than ever that you have the right equipment for protection from head to toe.
What You Wear
Proper shoes are a must for athletes in all sports requiring specialized footwear. An article in the New York Times cites a study at the University of Calgary in which researchers looked at the importance of shoe traction for soccer players. One group wore typical sized cleats, while others wore shoes with the cleats shaved down. Results showed that shoes with the highest rate of rotational traction -- those with large, toothy cleats along the outside -- caused the most injuries.
Those kinds of studies inform athletic shoe manufacturers whose aim is to design footwear that minimizes injury, and it’s best to follow their lead. Tennis players should only wear shoes designed specifically for the sport, says the California Podiatric Medical Association, or CPMA. Tennis shoes are different than running shoes in that they’re designed with more flexibility for players to run side to side, plus they include “toe boxes,” which are padded sections at the front of the shoes.
“Heels should be snug-fitting to prevent slipping from side to side, and both heel and toe areas should have adequate cushioning,” the CPMA site says. “The arch should provide both soft support, and the toe box should have adequate depth to prevent toenail injuries.”
When making a purchase, tennis players are also advised to try on the shoes in the afternoon when their feet are somewhat swollen. The ankle should stay firmly in place when they walk in them, and in some cases, such as athletes with fallen arches, a custom orthotic in the shoe is a good idea.
How You Prepare
Most sports experts recommend conditioning before playing a sport regardless of whether it takes place on a field, in a gym, or on a court. An article on the Better Health Channel website specifies the following abilities you should work toward if you’re spending time on the tennis court:
Even if you’re a non-competitive player, it’s a good idea to gain physical preparation for the demands of any choice of athletics. Acquiring the skill set is another good form of preparation, which could involve hiring a trainer or taking lessons.
In tennis, learning to serve correctly and return the ball can decrease your chance of injuries, says the Better Health article. For instance, a player may incorrectly swing using just the power of the arm instead of the whole body, and they can twist and over-rotate, which may lead to back problems.
An ankle sprain is very common for athletes involved in many sports, including basketball and tennis. When presenting with a painful ankle, your chiropractor will likely begin by manually assessing the damage. If the area is swollen and the pain you experience is on the outside of the ankle, it could be a sprain. In that case, your treatment will probably include ice, a compression bandage and elevation of the foot. Ice also provides relief from painful symptoms of tennis toe, which occurs when blood builds up at the front of your foot. Sometimes it’s the result of improper footwear.
Your chiropractor can determine if you have a fracture, which many times occurs in the metatarsal bones that are located behind the toes. In that case, you would probably experience acute pain with every step. Don’t ignore your symptoms -- you can cause greater damage if you don’t get it treated.
Some injuries are more typical in athletes -- especially recreational athletes -- who play on hard surfaces, such as asphalt or concrete tennis courts. You’re more likely to pull your Achilles tendon or suffer from shin splints if you don’t choose to play on a softer surface.
That’s good news for those who do make it to Wimbledon -- it’s always been played on grass.
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